Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication Year: 2013
Read: April 2013
The Quick and Dirty:
14-year-old Sophronia Temminick begins attending a finishing school for lady-spies in a steampunkified supernatural version of Victorian England. Boarding school shenanigans ensue, without much really happening. A good, solid “meh” on this one.
The Wordy Version:
I’ve been pretty into steampunk for the past couple years, and was really looking forward to this one. It’s set in the same universe as the author’s Parasol Protectorate series for adults, which I have not read, but friends have enjoyed it and recommended it to me. So when the WordNerds book club chose this as our May book, I was very excited! I was kinda bummed when I sat down to read it and only thought it was okay—there were some things I liked, some things I didn’t, and overall I think the book and I just weren’t suited to each other.
First off, there was one big obstacle to me reading this book, and it had nothing to do with the writing. The main character’s name is Sophronia, and unfortunately a friend of my family used to have a dachshund named Sophronia. It’s such a unique name that that’s the only place I’d ever heard it before, so the whole time I was reading the book I kept thinking about the bratty wiener dog that ate my shoe. AND THEN the Sophronia from the story acquired a robot dachshund! It was just too much for me… XD
In all seriousness though, I think one of the reasons this book ended up just not being for me was that it was definitely at the lower end of YA. The main characters are 10-14 (well, at least they’re supposed to be, but I’ll get to that later), so that alone gave the book more of a middle-grade feel to me, although it is marketed as YA. I mean, there are plenty of middle-grade books I’ve read while not in that targeted age group that I’ve enjoyed (ex: Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events). This one just didn’t do it for me.
Overall, I think there just wasn’t as much depth to the story and the characters as I would’ve liked. I don’t expect every book to be a John Green, but even in my fun and frothy reads I like my characters to be more than just what’s on the surface and to have consistency in their personality, attitudes, and actions. The friendships between the girls at the school developed, but not in particularly intriguing ways. Sophronia was a rather precocious 14 in some ways, but it was believable. Vieve, a mischievous 9-year-old mechanic-type (who the interwebs tell me shows up in the later-set Parasol Protectorate series), most certainly does not act or talk like any 9-year-old I have met, no matter how precocious. The flirtation between Sophronia (I have to call her Sophie in my head so I don’t think of that damn dachshund) and Soap was cute, but as it’s a middle-grade-y book, it doesn’t go beyond that. Which is fine. Refreshing, even!
Additionally, some things just didn’t make sense to me, or seem realistic. I’m still not sure why Monique was fake-crying after the flywaymen attacked the carriage taking them to the school at the beginning of the book. And if the teachers wanted to make her give up the location of the prototype, would they really send a nearly-graduated 17-year-old (or was she 18? I can’t remember) to go hang out with the 13-year-old first years? What would that accomplish? And would Monique really get her kicks out of making life difficult for these girls who are so much younger than her? I just wasn’t convinced.
For 307 pages, I felt like not all that much happened. The story plodded along at a slow but steady pace. I thought maybe things were being set up to come together all at the end, but even the climax of the story didn’t really feel as though it was this great culmination of things set into place earlier. That being said, the climax of the story at Sophronia’s sister’s coming out party was easily the most fun of the book. Probably because there was at last a bit of action! Finally finding the prototype, learning a bit about the different factions that want it, mechanical dogs, conflagrations in the garden…if the book had had more scenes like that, I would have probably found it much more engaging. There were lots of plot threads left flapping in the wind for the next book, such as Monique’s fate, who her benefactor at the school is, the dark-haired Piston boy making eyes at Sophronia, and the involvement of the military. If the next one has more action, I might be tempted to read it. Might.
I did enjoy the humor in the writing, though. Sometimes it felt a little overwrought, with the ridiculous names (Lord Dingleproops, Mrs. Barnaclegoose, Bumbersnoot…I imagine most people probably find them amusing, but for me it was a bit much), and the kind of over-the-top pseudo-Britishisms (pip, pip, cheerio! Whot whot, topping!). (Okay, to be fair, “pip pip cheerio” never appeared in the book, but you get the picture.) But overall, I liked the light, humorous tone of the writing, and there were many lines that actually made me laugh out loud.
All in all, I wouldn’t say it was a bad book. I was just a bit disappointed that it wasn’t as much as I had hoped for. I think plenty of people would get a kick out of it, but it just wasn’t for me. But now I’m worried, because I don’t know if the things I didn’t enjoy about this book are normal parts of this author’s writing style, or if they’re just something that came about in her transition to YA/middle-grade—does the Parasol Protectorate series have these writing attributes that it turns out I’m not a fan of, or should I give it a go? Is there anyone who has read them and is able to weigh in? Hit the comments and assuage my fears!!!