by Gail Carriger
First sentence: “Sophronia intended to pull the dumbwaiter up from the kitchen to outside the front parlor on the ground floor, where Mrs. Barnaclegose was taking tea.”
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I’m going to say this up front: I was drawn in by the cover and by the back, which has a very catchy and kind of awesome blurb on it:
It’s one thing to curtsey properly
It’s quite another to learn to curtsey & throw a knife at the same time.
Welcome to Finishing School.
But I couldn’t finish it. In fact, after about the first paragraph, I was questioning my desire to read it at all.
From what I can gather, Sophronia (Really? REALLY? What a terrible name. Then again, all the names are terrible) is a 14-year-old tomboy in 1850-something. It’s a steampunkish world, with machinery and robots, but there’s also paranormal beasties (you know: werewolves, vampires and the like). Because she’s such a handful, her mother’s neighbor (I think that’s who Mrs. Barnaclegoose is; I was never really quite clear on this), takes it upon herself to enroll Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School. Which, as it turns out, has a lot more to do with finishing than Finishing. (Ha.)
I never really got the rest of the plot, because after the attack of the flywayman (double ha) and the revelation that Mademoiselle Geraldine is actually a 17-year-old student named Monique (who has an Agenda), I lost interest. I wanted this to be awesome in the over the top but way cool sort of way, but instead it ended up just being convoluted.
Orson Scot Card said once (I think it was him) (and I’m obviously paraphrasing here) that a good story needs more than one good idea. But that’s the problem with this one: a Finishing school for assassins is a good idea. A fellow student who has an Agenda is a good idea. A steampunk world is a good idea. Werewolves and vampires are good ideas. But all of them together? Not so much. The book felt — and granted I only got about 70 pages in — cluttered. Crowded. It made me feel claustrophobic.
And the writing? Sure, it’s the 1850s, but this is just banal:
“Your mother is occupied in an important private audience. I was going to await her leisure. But for this, I shall disturb her. It is 1851 and I believe we lived in a civilized world! Yet you are as bad a a rampaging werewolf, young miss, and someone must take action.” (3)
Dimity sidled up to Sophronia and whispered, “Isn’t he simply scrumptious?”
Sophronia pretended obtuseness. “The coachman?”
“No, silly. Him!” Dimity tilted her head toward their new escort.
“He’s a little old, don’t you feel?” (47)
(Much talk like Yoda, hmmm?)
“Oh yes, lead on, do. To the Squeak deck.”
And that sound you hear? It’s the sound of my hopes being dashed.