Vampires...werewolves...mechanical creatures...intrigue and machinations...
Gail Carriger brings Sophronia Temminnick back for a second adventure in the next book of the Finishing School series, Curtsies & Conspiracies. I picked up this series some time ago because of its setting (19th century Europe), its characters (c'mon, that's a given - werewolves and vampires!), and its premise (a girls' finishing school that is secretly training its students to become spies). This combination certainly piqued my interest, and now having finished the second book, I am definitely glad I bought them.
Carriger has created some delightful characters in this series. Sophronia is a curious, strong-willed Nancy Drew-style young lady who never forgets her manners or modesty, even when climbing along the balconies on the outside of the massive airship that houses the school or facing down a hive of vampires. Dimity is her roommate and friend, who is timid (from which her name is undoubtedly derived) and very Bess Marvin-like in nature - she's unsure of the whole spy business, but she's definitely up for a new dress or sparkling accessories. There's Sidheag, a tall, gangly Scot who is very tomboyish and dislikes all manner of femininity. And there's Agatha, the follower who manages to keep all of the others in check.
In this steampunk world, there are conspiracies everywhere, and Sophronia stumbles upon one involving a crystalline guidance valve that could be used to allow ships to fly higher into the aetherosphere. It seems there a number of groups after the valve - the vampires, the picklemen, as well as others. What Sophronia can't figure out is how her school is drawn into this and why they are suddenly taking a trip to London to see the latest in dirigibles, which the creator claims can climb into the aetherosphere and reach its destinations faster than any other ship.
And all the while, Sophronia must deal with classes, an ingenious test of all her learned skills to date, and the boarding of a group of boys from the rival school for evil male geniuses - one of whom takes a liking to Sophronia and won't take no for an answer.
This series really does have it all. It's fun reading, it's fast paced, and it has tons of believable characters with real reactions and dialogue. I would have to say by far, my favorite is the young sootie, "Soap," who works in the engine room and who has developed over these first two books a distinct crush on Sophronia. Carringer is slowly building the relationship between these two, and it will be interesting to see where she ultimately takes it.
The series is definitely more about the intrigue and the espionage and conspiracies, but there is a certain element of mystery to it that would appeal to readers of that genre as well. I hope Carriger keeps this series going for a while.
RATING: 9 dangerous plots out of 10 for proving that a book series about a world with vampires and werewolves does not have to be sparkly!