About the Book

Title: Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) [Mandy C.’s Take]
Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School #2)
Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3)
Manners & Mutiny (Finishing School #4)
Published: 2013
Series: Finishing School
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Stories: Fancy Dresses
BFF Charm: Yay to Platinum
Talky Talk: Classic Carriger
Bonus Factors: Paranormal Creatures, Gender Bending, Boarding School
Anti-Bonus Factor: 1800s Society
Relationship Status: True Love

Red alert! This review covers all four Finishing School books—Etiquette & EspionageCurtsies & ConspiraciesWaistcoats & Weaponry, and Manners & Mutiny. I will do my best to avoid spoilers, as always, but I wanted to give a warning that the chance for spoilers is slightly higher than in a standard one-book review.

Cover Stories: Fancy Dress

We meet again, old frenemy! But in this case, the fancy-dressed ladies (lady?) are quite appropriate, as the young women who attend the finishing school in question certainly spend a large amount of time talking and thinking about their dresses. (Pretty standard for the 1850s.) I do love the inclusion of the weapons, however, as they make it clear that these aren’t your standard finishing school books.

The Deal:

With all her elder siblings, Sophronia Temminnick never dreamed that she’d be the one to attend a finishing school. But when the opportunity arises for her to attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, her mother jumps at the chance to cull some of Sophronia’s more trying qualities. What Sophoronia’s mother didn’t expect, however, was that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s wasn’t a standard finishing school; instead, the school’s a place for young women of “quali-tay” to learn how to become assassins, spies, and all-around badasses—the perfect place for a young woman like Sophronia.

BFF Charm: Yay to Platinum

BFF platinum charm

Sophronia is the kind of young woman I think I would have been had I lived in the 1850s: a weirdo who doesn’t exactly fit with the times, and is 100% OK with that. Through the four books of the Finishing School series, Sophronia grows from precocious to self-confident but never stops being inquisitive, loyal, and willing to put herself on the line for her friends or what’s right—even when what’s right might not be proper! (Le gasp.) She and her best friends might not be the most popular girls at the school, but they’re all the better for it. Popularity is overrated; intelligence is where it’s at, and Sophronia has that in spades. We might have butted heads a little, with both of us being the kind of women who take charge of group projects out of a sense of self-preservation, but I imagine we’d learn to let each other lead where our strengths were best, and rely on each other for filling in the weaker spots.

(I’m really sad she’s not a real person for me to be friends with, y’all!)

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Sophronia’s not really looking for a relationship, mostly because she’s afraid that saddling herself to a husband would mean giving up all of her agency. (She’s not wrong? Not in that era.) But she can’t help that young men find her smile irresistible. Specifically Soap, a “sootie” who works in the bowels of the school, keeping it afloat—did I forget to mention that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s is a massive airship?—and Lord Felix Mersey, a young noble who might not have such noble intentions.

Talky Talk: Classic Carriger

Carriger is known for her historical paranormal, but the Finishing School series is her first foray into the YA world. It takes place in the same universe as her Parasol Protectorate books, but a couple of decades prior. The series is full of heart and characters you can cheer for, but the best part is Carriger’s unusual sense of humor and her hilariously inventive names. Professor Shrimpdittle and Lord Dingleproops are two examples of the latter, while here’s one of my favorite examples of the former:

“He was very pale and boasted an unassuming mustache, which was perched atop his upper lip cautiously, as though it were slightly embarrassed to be there and would like to slide away and become a sideburn or something more fashionable.”

Bonus Factor: Paranormal Creatures

Jacob and Edward from Twilight stare at each other in front of a forest background

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s has both a vampire and a werewolf on their faculty, and Sophronia finds herself dealing with many more of the two species throughout her adventures. And there’s even the occasional ghost!

Bonus Factor: Gender Bending

Anne Hathaway dressed in an adidas tracksuit and baseball cap wearing a fake mustache

There’s a character in this series who is a young woman, but who dresses and acts much more like a young man, and would prefer to be seen as much. (I can’t blame her; dudes really did* have it easier!) It’s not clear if she’s non-binary, but I don’t know that that was a term used in the 1800s, so gender-bending it is.

*Hahaha, did. *cries*

Bonus Factor: Boarding School

Regal old boarding school building with turrets and ivy on the stone walls

Apart from the whole learning to kill people thing, Mademoiselle Geraldine’s sounds like an absolutely killer (pun intended) boarding school. Imagine getting to float about the English countryside, training in poisons and spycraft while wearing fancy dresses and taking fancy tea. The idea of multiple petticoats makes me itchy, but I’m sure I’d get used to it eventually!

Anti-Bonus Factor: 1800s Society

A Victorian-era woman drinks from a tea cup and looks bored.

Although Sophronia tends to buck societal standards, she still finds herself having to follow them. And she’s also not entirely forward-thinking, at least at first; her thoughts about her friendship/maybe more with Soap are often colored by elements of classism and racism—Soap’s both lower-class and Black. It’s accurate for the time period and Sophronia’s much more “modern” than many of her peers, but it’s a definite downside(s) to a historical setting.

Relationship Status: True Love

You’re a perfect mix of adventure and amusement, Series, and although we spent a lot of time together recently, I didn’t tire of you one bit. I can see us being an item for a long, long time to come.

Literary Matchmaking

My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies #2)

The second Lady Janies book, My Plain Jane, also has a good mix of 1800s society, paranormal elements, and irreverent humor.

Jackaby (Jackaby #1)

William Ritter’s Jackaby series also has a good mix of humor and paranormal, and a really ballsy, ahead-of-her-time, BFF-worthy main character.

Dread Nation (Dread Nation #1)

And Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation duology is another historical fiction with paranormal creatures, but this time they’re zombies (and far less amusing).

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought a copy of Etiquette & Espionage with my own monies, but received copies of Curtsies & ConspiraciesWaistcoats & Weaponryand Manners & Mutiny from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. I got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. The Finishing School series is available now.

Mandy (she/her) is a manager at a tech company who lives in Austin, TX, with her husband, son, and dogs. She loves superheroes and pretty much any show or movie with “Star” in the name.