I believe that Etiquette & Espionage has one of the prettiest covers of 2013 (so far). Also, a finishing school that actually equips you to become not only a "lady" (don't get me started on how anti-feminist that is) but also an assassin or informant? Sign me up please! (the assassin part). Also, the steampunk world of Etiquette & Espionage is set in the 19th century, on a floating school. yes floating school, that has werewolf and vampire teachers, and a brother school named "The School of Evil Geniuses".... I will give you a minute to process all of this before diving into the plot and characters.
Ok, you guys ready to move on?
The main protagonist, Sophronia (that is a mouthful!) is the youngest daughter of many sisters and brothers.. she is deemed as the troublesome child in the family and one that is too interested in technology (how horrifying) and forgets that she is a lady. Her mother and sisters got fed up with Sophronia's troublemaking streak and problematic antics she gets into that they jump at the chance when the headmistress of The Finishing Academy For Young Ladies Of Quality proposes she starts attending her school. In less than half an hour they pack Sophronia's necessities and ship her off with the headmistress. Little did they know that her education will be a bit more than classes on posture, tea drinking etiquette, and the right level of curtsy.
I really really loved the premise of Etiquette & Espionage but I felt that I would have connected so much more with the main protagonist if she was older than 14. I felt this book was more middle grade thank young adult, especially with the innocent aura I got from all the characters. I mean a school that teaches you to become assassins should have been exciting and action packed but we get almost no attendance into any of the kick butt classes I was hoping to witness. I was thinking more along the lines of Tris's situations in Divergent but we mostly get to read about Sophronia's lack of a proper curtsy and a vampire that always annoyingly ends his sentences with the word "Whot!".
I liked the plot, I really did, even with all the complicated steampunk terminology, I was still able to follow the plot, something that usually doesn't happen when I read steampunks. I have to say I loved the idea of mechanimals (yes! an animal that is constructed using metals) and how Sophronia cared for one as an actual pet. However, I struggled with all the names of the characters in this story, some were impossible to pronounce. The antagonist was interesting but I honestly saw no character development in this novel. Maybe it was neglected because the focus was mainly put on the school as well as searching for the prototype that the antagonist hid.
To try and end this review at a reasonable length, where I could write for ages about this book because so much happens in it, I did enjoy Etiquette & Espionage and would have enjoyed it way more if I was maybe 5 to 7 years younger. It has a bit of a Gallagher Girl vibe but with steampunk and a younger protagonist. I recommend it to middle grade book readers as well as fans of steampunk who don't mind a protagonist that is younger than your average YA character.