Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail CarrigerCurtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger (Finishing School #2)

Genre: YA, Steampunk

Publisher: Little, Brown on November 1, 2013

Audio: Moira Quirk for Hachette Audio

Source: Library

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Does one need four fully grown foxgloves for decorating a dinner table for six guests?

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The teaching staff at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (pronounced qual-ee-tay, of course!) may have met their match in young Sophronia Temminick, intelligencer in training. As an intelligencer, or a Victorian-era spy, Sophronia gets involved in the most outrageous shenanigans, causing mischief and unraveling schemes wherever she goes.

As with Gail Carriger’s other works, it isn’t the plot that draws in readers. CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES actually has a very similar plot to the first book in the series: a new mechanical invention that promises to revolutionize travel for vampires must be obtained before it can fall into the wrong hands, which could be a rival supernatural faction or the agents of a competing intelligencer academy. But the people hunting for this device will stop at nothing…including kidnapping!

The characters are the strongest element in CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES. Sophronia and her friends Dimity, Sidheag, and Agatha are by turns witty and dry, geniuses one moment and completely oblivious the next. I’ve really enjoyed reading a series featuring so many strong female friendships, which is why I was disappointed by the tension between the girls this time around. It all gets resolved in due course, but I felt like the whole thing was just a way to manufacture drama. Hopefully this doesn’t happen in the next book! I need more priceless exchanges like this one, too:

“What’s a man like down there?”
“Oh.” Sidheag wrinkled her nose. “Unimpressive. They have,” she gestured toward her own nether regions with one hand, “a sort of dangly sausage—lacks tailoring.”

Maybe it’s because I’m immature, but I *died* at that line!

Thankfully Sophronia’s friendship with the cross-dressing child inventor Vieve and the below-decks labourer Soap were largely free of tension. Vieve is all mischievous wit and trickery while Soap is good-hearted and compassionate…although not entirely unwise to the intelligence game! I can’t wait to see where these two friendships go, especially since Soap is working his subtle yet adorable charm on Sophronia. Yeah, I ship it.

The steampunk aspects of this series are fairly unimposing, so I think it’s a good intro to that genre if you’re interested in checking it out. Mechanical automatons shaped like animals, appropriately termed “mechanimals” and the fact that Madame Geraldine’s Academy is a floating dirigible are the two most prominent steampunk creations. Sophronia’s pet mechanimal Bumbersnoot, a little mechanical sausage dog, is my personal favourite. How Gail Carriger manages to pack so much personality into that little guy is beyond me!

I listened to the audio version of this book, and as usual Moira Quirk’s narration is absolutely on point. She delivers quippy and more emotional lines with equal skill, but it’s her comedic timing that really showcases her talent as a voice actress. I honestly laughed at loud multiple times – in public – while listening to CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES. If you’re tempted by this series, do yourself a favour and check out the audio format. The hilarity, ridiculousness, and delightful scrapes that Sophronia and her friends get up to are portrayed perfectly by Quirk.

Recommended for fans of historical fantasy, steampunk, and books that don’t themselves too seriously.

Do you like steampunk novels? Have you read anything by Gail Carriger? Inquiring minds want to know!

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  • This has always struck me as a decent YA alternative to her Parasol Protectorate series, though I’ve yet to try it. I may one day, since Carriger impressed me so much with her book Prudence. I wouldn’t call that one YA, more of a crossover maybe, but it was probably why I found it much more enjoyable than Soulless, which was more adult and felt way heavier on the romance than I expected. Makes me think I’ll have better luck with this series too.

    • If you’re looking for the Parasol Protectorate with less romance, then definitely give this series a try! It has that trademark Carriger humour and sassy female characters without the heavy romance edge – although I will say that I suspect romance will play a greater role in the last two books of the series as Sophronia gets older.

      I hope you enjoy these books if/when you give them a go! 🙂

  • I like the dangly sausage comment, hahaha. I feel like witty banter really helps to sell a set of characters.

    • Right?! I absolutely died when I heard that line in the audiobook, haha. Yeah, I agree: nothing solidifies a sense of camaraderie between characters more than witty rapport.

  • I can’t wait to get started on this series. I just finished the Parasol Protectorate (so much fun – the last book may have been my favorite) and I’m ready to move on to this series. I agree with you that good female friendships are the best and surprisingly hard to find in genre so I think I will dig that aspect of this series a lot. Also – adorable robot dogs – totally on board with that!

    • I think you’re really going to like this series, Stephanie! It didn’t make me fall in love right away like PP did, but these books are just so funny and there is also much better representation of visible minorities (in my opinion).

      Yes, what is up with the dearth of good female friendships in genre? I think it’s even more noticeable when you consider friendships involving a whole group of girls, rather than just two BFF types.

      SO ADORABLE! Bumbersnoot. <3

  • Lynn Williams

    I still haven’t finished the Parasol Protectorate! Need to get a budge on!
    Lynn 😀

    • Ha, I know that feeling well! Nothing lights a fire underneath you than realizing that a spinoff series is well underway (or in this case, completed!) and you haven’t even finished the original yet. Happy reading, Lynn! 🙂