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 4, 2014
Waistcoats and Weaponry, the third entry in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, picks up not long after the end of Curtsies and Conspiracies. Sophronia is working her way through her second year at Madame Geraldine’s, with nothing more exciting than classes and her brother’s engagement party on the horizon. But things are never ordinary for long at this finishing school. When her friend Sidheag receives bad news from Scotland, Sophronia immediately jumps to help her get home to help her werewolf family. Of course, no covert journey is complete without a train hijacking, battles with vampire drones, massive conspiracies, and dancing mechanicals singing “Rule Britannia.”
In the previous volume, Sophronia began to question what it would really mean to be an intelligencer- and to “finish.” This same sort of questioning continues, and even intensifies, in W&W. Having determined that she will indeed become an agent of espionage, the question then arises: but who will she work FOR? The crown? The conservatives (Picklemen)? The supernatural? Lord Akeldama, the famous vampire, has already tacitly offered patronage, but Sophronia is rather naïve and still believes it may be possible to be neutral among these opposing forces.
Her choices are literally embodied in the two boys competing for her affection: the sweet, low born “sootie” Soap, and the upper class fop Lord Mersey. One represents a break away from convention (through both race and class) and an embrace of the supernatural, another the conservative force that would see all supernaturals eliminated and Sophronia’s independence subsumed under class expectations. (If anyone rooted for Lord Mersey in this little triangle, sorry, we can’t be friends). I can’t say I was surprised to see a love triangle emerge- this is a YA series, after all- but I did like that Carriger decided to wait until the 3rd volume to introduce it, AND to resolve it in that same story- no long, drawn out will-they-won’t-they nonsense to suck all the fun out of Sophronia’s adventures in troublemaking.
This book was just as fun, though perhaps a little less frothy, than the others in the series. Despite the light tone, there were some dark moments that were a little weightier than the preceding stories. The closing events were especially serious compared to the minor consequences of Sophronia and friends’ previous adventures. Sophronia herself is still a little over-the-top in her abilities; for someone with not even two years training, she is overly proficient. Natural talent is one thing, but sometimes her athletic prowess and reasoning powers are a bit overdone. I still love Sophronia- her sensible approach to problems, her fierce loyalty- but I can’t help but wish she was little more realistic as an espionage agent. But these books were not written for realism, so the complaint is a minor one.
Sophronia’s friends- Dimity, Sidheag, and Soap- all had more room to expand into rounded characters in this entry and that is one of its greatest strengths. The “plot” was more action than development and, being set away from the school, lacked some of the strong elements of setting that I really appreciated in the first two volumes. Not to mention a minor overload of convenient timing and overheard conversations. But overall, it was an excellent adventure, and THAT ENDING. No spoilers, but it was a little shocking and definitely has me excited for the next one (and very impatient, as it won’t be out until next year.) I love that the final chapter is cheekily titled “Werewolf Ex Machina.”
And I was very happy when Monique was thrown out of a moving train.
(Edit: I also have to say I love that the titles in this series each refer specifically, if vaguely, to the plot of the novels, and aren't just cute alliterative references to steampunk/victoriana)