I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, November 5, 2014
In Curtsies and Conspiracies, Sophronia enters her second year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (or quali-tay) and must juggle classes, friendships, intrigues, and even the possibility of romance. Unlike most series set in a school, the book opens with exams, which set the course for the students for the rest of the story. Sophronia, unsurprisingly if you’ve read the first book, does better than everyone else and, in a situation reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is ostracized by her classmates for a good chunk of the story when the results are announced in front of the class. When the school makes an unprecedented journey to London to witness a great scientific achievement, the ladies are joined by a few gentleman students from Miss Geraldine’s brother school- Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique (a school for evil geniuses)- which causes a great deal of excitement among the ladies, and further complicates Sophronia’s attempts to figure out just why the school is so intent on observing a dirigible experiment. With her friends seemingly turned against her, and Monique still proving to be the alpha-bitch she was set up for in the first book, Sophronia must rely on her skills and her lower-class connections in the school to solve the mystery- and decide if a life of espionage is what she really wants.
The second entry in the Finishing School series was just as much fun as the first, but also a little more complex (or complicated, depending on how you look at it). I loved that Sophronia struggles to figure out what the repercussions of her talents may be as she moves into a future as an intelligencer, which forces her to ask questions- and make questionable decisions. On that note, my only real disappointment was a lack of follow-through in the character assassination sub-plot; the moral implications of her choices were very intriguing and even troubling- but they were explained away too easily and it felt like a wasted opportunity to really develop Sophronia beyond a sophisticated Mary Sue. I know these are YA books and essentially comedic at heart, but there are some ambiguities that could use further development to really make them stand out as something special. I must definitely give Carriger credit for continuing to deftly handle the potentially problematic race issue she setup in the first novel, and Sophronia’s relationship with Soap continues to be one of the most intriguing parts of the ongoing story.
Having recently read Soulless, the first entry in Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series (which is set in the same universe but with more, ahem, adult intentions), I can say that the world overall is developed fairly well, but the Finishing School books could use a little more structure in the way the supernatural characters are used and understood. Perhaps the legal and imperial ramifications are not at the heart of these books the way they are in the other, but they would give the world a little more depth.
(And on a side note, Carriger may need to be careful about setting books intended for two very different audiences in the same world; the carry-over of characters from one series to the other was a great charm for me and probably for a lot of readers, but the idea of a twelve-year-old moving from Finishing School to Parasol Protectorate in search of a continuation of the experience is problematic.)
I’m still excited to read the next entry in the series, as well as the other books in the Parasol Protectorate. The world Carriger has built is immersive and fun, and I would love to see if Sophronia develops according the potential she so obviously has.
(Cross-posted at Goodreads: Curtsies and Conspiracies)