Monday, 18 November 2013

review: Curtsies & Conspiracies

by Gail Carriger
Little, Brown and Company, November 5 2013
young adult steampunk
review copy received via publisher (thank you!)

Sophronia’s second year at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy of Young Ladies of Quality is certainly proving why training to be a spy is a very good idea. Not only must their school deal with a sudden influx of boys, their trip to London seems fraught with conspiracies involving new technology, the supernatural and several powerful agents in play. Surviving all that plus society’s courting rituals will take all of Sophronia’s strength, intelligence and wit.
The cover:

The shiny gray-scale filter applied to the model is interesting to say the least, but I can’t decide whether it looks good or not, especially when paired with that strong, plain purple background. The title & author text treatment is something I can definitely get onboard with, though. The simple bevel + elaborate ampersand feels modern but quaint at the same time.

The book:

Probably the most disappointing aspect of Curtsies & Conspiracies is the writing. Gail Carriger is the author of an adult steampunk series and the first book in this series, Etiquette & Espionage, suffered from no such problems (or diminished ones, at any rate). Therefore, the jarring leaps between limited 3rd-person POV and omniscient, the awkward dialogue tags and the telling rather than showing make for an unsatisfactory, bumpy read.

This is especially evident in contrast with the voice. At times, Sophronia’s 3rd-person thoughts add delightful humour and panache in a style perfectly befitting the time period. Then you encounter one of the aforementioned road bumps, and much of the steam leaves your reading experience.

The large cast of characters is used effectively to keep the narrative’s tension taut at all times—sometimes too effectively. While Sophronia’s bevy of girlfriends, love interests and professorly acquaintances add texture and variation in her interactions, there are so many of them that some begin to feel like deus ex machine, only becoming involved when Sophronia needs them.

In addition, the love triangle between Sophronia, Soap and Lord Mercer is established firmly, but it remains to be seen whether any meaningful depth will be attributed to the choice between the two. This, in fact, is symptomatic of another problem: the lack of growth in Sophronia. She struggles overtly with one major decision, but it doesn’t seem to have any impact on her actions or even thought processes, making her seem rather flat.

In regards to the plot, the larger picture is effectively set up for a conclusive resolution in book 3, but at times I found myself simply lost in the muddle of conspiracies Sophronia was ferreting out. Conclusions seem to be jumped to, and connections that seem too obscure are in fact made. The climax is a chaotically fun bright spot at the end of the novel, just like the previous book, that brings to a head all of the various plot threads tangled throughout the book.

Curtsies & Conspiracies retains the distinct steampunk flair that was the trademark of the first book in this series, but problems spot the book from storyline to depth. This novel may be enjoyable if you don’t look too hard, but to follow the plotlines, you’ll have to.

Ethnic balance: 1.5 out of 5. It’s England, so everyone’s white except Soap. And even Sophronia doesn’t call out Lord Mercer on his racial slur against Soap. Sigh.

Rating: 2.6 out of 5