Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Posted on October 31, 2013

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curtsies

I’ll preface this with a small disclaimer: I adore Gail Carriger and I’m a little bit prone to fangirling when someone talks about her (but I promise I’ll try to be objective).

Now onto the review.

Curtsies & Conspiracies is the second book in the Finishing School series (which is actually set earlier in the universe of the Parasol Protectorate series) and follows the adventures of Sophronia Temminck as she learns how to be an spy in a school that doubles as a spy/finishing school.

While this book isn’t heavy on back story and explaining the plot of the previous book you can almost pick up and start reading this one without reading the first novel in this series. The plot follows a conspiracy concerning the valve found at the end of the last book.

Now I do love this particular conspiracy. I like that you get to see the political workings of this world’s England and that you get an idea of how the sponsorship system works for the girls after they become fully fledged spies. I also appreciated this book because it felt like it added depth to the events in Parasol Protectorate as I knew more about the politics leading up to the events in that book (particularly surrounding aether properties). I also really enjoyed that we were able to see certain characters from those books (like Vieve and Lord Akeldema) from an earlier viewpoint. This book felt like it had more action in it than the first novel and it was fun to see how really innovative the younger characters could be in the face of adult opposition.

Whilst this book is action packed towards the end it mostly explores Sophronia’s relationships with the other characters: namely her friendships and burgeoning romantic relationships.

And whilst I love Gail Carriger this is where the book annoys me just a tad.

I do enjoy that Carriger places Sophronia in a situation that many young girls face whilst in school, which is being tested in friendship particular when the friends are acting in a hurtful way. I feel that it grounds a story that could otherwise become lost in grand conspiracies and marvelous gadgets.

Warning spoilers below

However, we discover that the teachers instruct Sophronia’s friends to ignore her; ostensibly to teach her that her strength as a spy lies in her friendships. I’m not exactly sure that’s true considering that she passes the solo test with flying colours and considering that she was able to still gather a fair bit of important intelligence without her friends. Whilst her friends are important I’m not exactly sure that she truly needs them to excel at spy work.

We also start to see the makings of a love triangle and I found that disappointing. I’ve actually come to hate this trope in fiction, particularly because you tend to see it in fantasy novels where females are the main leads. For once I’d like to read a book in fantasy with a female lead with no romance. That aside, I do appreciate that in this particular triangle both males are unsuitable prospects (if for very different reasons). I also hold out hope that Carriger will find a novel way to resolve this pickle and remove this lump of coal from an otherwise brilliant stocking.

I also have a strong dislike of the way one of the main love interests acted. He appears to lack common sense and also is rather pushy with his affections in a way that I think we’re supposed to read as charming and witty but I read as kind of rapey. I dislike how Sophronia, who seemed rather ambivalent initially, appears to be warming up to his advances (but he hasn’t won her heart by any stretch of the imagination so there’s still a chance he’ll be written out).

Spoilers Ended

Those were my only gripes with this otherwise fantastic novel. Gail Carriger’s writing is up to its usual standards with wit, verve and a slight mischievousness that I’ve appreciated since I first read her work. All in all this is a brilliant read and whilst it’s technically YA as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it.

P.S. For those who have read the Parasol Protectorate we first hear mention of the Octopus in this novel.

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