“Thus the young ladies, outfitted in each other’s finest—and each other’s personalities—descended upon Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique for a winter ball a few weeks later. There existed no little animosity between the two schools. They disagreed upon the subjects of politics, supernatural acceptance, techniques of instruction, and teatime provisions. But they were linked by necessity.”
Sophronia Temminnick has her plate full as she enters her final year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School where, in addition to manners and charms, she has also been receiving a first-class education in espionage. In a bargain to save Soap’s life, she bartered her post-graduation contract to the Dewan, but it seems that he isn’t content to wait for her to finish school. Meanwhile, the Pickleman plot involving the new crystalline frequencer valves could come to fruition at any time, and Sophronia must be ready, since neither her teachers nor anyone else is prepared to believe her about what she thinks they have planned. And of course, she has unfinished business with Soap, the Sootie turned werewolf, and Lord Felix Mersey, evil genius and son of a Pickleman.
Truthfully, this is as much a review of the Finishing School series as Manners and Mutiny, the fourth and final volume thereof. I listened to the first three volumes as audiobooks, narrated by the excellent Moira Quirk, who brings the accents, characters, and lively dialogue to life. Too impatient to wait for my library to get in the audiobook, I snatched up a paper copy Manners and Mutiny as soon as it was available. However, Quirk’s narration is so good I plan on listening to the entire thing again once I top the holds queue for the audiobook. (Update: Got the audio! These books are good, but the audiobooks are absolute treasures!)
Gail Carriger’s delightful steampunk world blends Victorian manners, mechanical contrivances, and werewolves and vampires for a charming precursor to her popular Parasol Protectorate series (which I admittedly have not read). Spirited dialogue and witty banter adorn the comedy-of-manners aspect of the story, while the spy school setting adds action and intrigue to the mix. For those who have read the Parasol Protectorate, Carriger shows how the world for that series came to be, and adds a nice tie-in between some characters in the final pages.
Sophronia is gutsy and perceptive, and her character really grew on me as the series progressed and she channelled her talent for mischief into espionage. Her friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag round out the cast, each with their own reasons for attending Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. Unfortunately, Sidheag’s removal to Scotland along with Captain Niall means that neither character features in this final installment. However, we do get to see some significant development in Agatha’s character. And of course, Carriger must finally answer the question of whether Sophronia will choose Soap, the black werewolf, or Felix Mersey, son of one of the highest ranked Picklemen in the country. To choose Soap would mean social exile, but as long as Felix holds to his father’s politics, choosing him would mean betraying her own values. And while Felix was always a powerful aristocrat, now that Soap is a werewolf, the power dynamic between them has shifted significantly, leaving Sophronia afraid she had lost control of the entire situation.
The Finishing School series is a fun frolic full of delightful characters, spirited hijinks, and romantic tension. The boys are dashing, the girls are boisterous, and the teachers struggle to contain their plucky protégés. Manners and Mutiny forms a fitting conclusion to this eminently enjoyable series.
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