Waistcoats & Weaponry
by Gail Carriger
Recommended Ages: 14+
Meantime, Sophronia is equally undecided between two suitors who come from entirely different worlds: Lord Felix Mersey, a pampered young viscount who belongs to the most Pickleman-friendly clique at the boys' school for evil geniuses at which Mlle. Geraldine's Finishing Academy frequently stops; and Soap, the dark-skinned "sootie" who rules the airship's engine room. The one young man has political connections that might be useful in Sophronia's career as an intelligencer, but will most likely mean a loss of freedom to choose her own loyalties. The other belongs to the wrong race, the wrong social class, and the wrong income bracket - all adding up to a scandal from which her career might never recover.
Torn between these two impossible choices, Sophronia struggles to master her heart while also trying to figure out who are the good guys and the bad guys in a showdown between the Westminster vampire hive and the Picklemen, starting with an impromptu operatic performance by all the household mechanical servants during a ball at her parents' house in Wiltshire. Sophronia, Felix, Soap, and three of her girlfriends from school slip out of the ball during the ensuing chaos and stow away on board a train that, funnily enough, ends up being where all the action happens when hive drones, flywaymen (think "airship-borne pirates"), Picklemen, and werewolves collide with all the force of conflicting agendas and dangerous conspiracies.
This book is a good representative of a young-adult series that combines a laugh-aloud comedy of manners, exciting steampunk action, well-conceived paranormal fantasy, complex political intrigue, and romance kept on a simmer with the lid just held on. I can scarcely recall ever reading a page by Gail Carriger (a.k.a. Tofa Borregaard) that wan't funny, steamy, thrilling, or otherwise thoroughly enjoyable, often all at one time. She's a tremendously clever author, with a head for history, an eye for fashion, an ear for witty dialogue, and a pronounced naughty streak. I say this after having read all five of her "Parasol Protectorate" novels, the previous two in this prequel series (beginning with Etiquette & Espionage), and about a third of the concluding installment, Manners & Mutiny. After spending eight-and-a-third books in the Parasolverse, I have actually entertained regrets that I don't actually live in it. It seems like such fun!