Sunday, February 26, 2017

Manners & Mutiny

Manners & Mutiny
by Gail Carriger
Recommended Ages: 14+

At least twice during this fourth book in the "Finishing School" quartet, I had to close the book to have my laugh out. One time, I remember, was for a line about a mousy girl, forced to impersonate one of her chattier friends for a fancy-dress ball with an identity-switching theme, revealing she had "unexpected depths of shallowness." The witticisms fly thick and fast in this young-adult novel of paranormal-steampunk-espionage-romantic comedy. You really have to be on your toes to catch some of them, and a mild Adult Content Advisory is in order for some of the naughtier bits, not to mention how useful it would be for a reader to be able to appreciate black comedy. That reminds me of another laugh-aloud incident, in which the death of a minor villain is described by a stylish lady airily mentioning how a certain insane vampire "became peckish during our peregrinations."

In this installment of Sophronia Temminick's adventures at a finishing school for lady intelligencers, the heroine finally finishes school, in every possible sense of the word "finish." She has, if you will, the graduation to end all graduations, as far as Mlle. Geraldine's Finishing Academy is concerned. For before she can convince her teachers about an evil plot involving crystalline valves and the mechanical servants that lurk in every British household of at least middling quality, the Picklemen (evil masterminds who believe in world domination through gadgetry) strike, bringing down the huge airship that houses the girls' school. As chance would have it, Sophronia is the only student left on board when the bad guys take off, setting a course for London, high treason, and mechanized mayhem.

So, naturally, she does the Bruce Willis, Die Hard thing, while looking stunning in a low-cut dinner gown. She risks capture, death, and mass destruction in the corridors of a floating academy prowled by armed flywaymen, dastardly Picklemen, an unhinged vampire, an engine room full of innocent sooties, and three other women whose loyalties are uncertain. In her corner, she has a steam-powered sausage dog, an exploding wicker chicken, a fan with razor-sharp blades, a few other gadgets, and deadliest of all, her feminine wiles. To save the kingdom from a Pickleman takeover, she will have to be tough enough, resourceful enough, and complete enough in all the arts of a Mlle. Geraldine's girl to bring down the house, hard.

Space does not permit me to tell you how all this fits in with Sophronia's romantic dilemma between a beautiful Pickeman's son and a lower-class, black-skinned werewolf; how the vampire and werewolf interests are concerned in all the ruckus; who turns out to be secretly working for whom; and from what quarter help unexpectedly arrives at a crucial moment. Let's just say everything that happens is totally in keeping with Carriger's Parasolverse, a marvelous fantasy world in which men are men and women are women, except when they happen to be vampires, werewolves, or ghosts; and what they are, in that case, is more than enough to float my airship.

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