Curtsies & Conspiracies is the second book in the Finishing School series. The novel assumes you’ve already read Etiquette & Espionage, and I will also assume you’ve read my review of that book. If you enjoyed the first book, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy this one.
Sophronia’s adventures continue, although it’s becoming clearer that part of why she gets away with so much is because many of her instructors know that she’s spying on them and they approve of it. The rules and obstacles are there primarily to make it more of a challenge.
The floating school travels to London where we meet several characters that I recognized fromThe Parasol Protectorate series. These were fun breadcrumbs for adult readers, and not recognizing the characters wasn’t at all confusing for my daughter.
Widespread conspiracies start to surface, and Sophronia starts learning about the compromises that sometimes have to be made to reach your goals.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Sophronia is starting to become interested in boys, and they’re starting to become interested in her. It can be quite distracting for her. Several boys from the academy for evil geniuses travel with the finishing school for a while, which leads to several romantic adventures and mild rivalries. Sophronia finds herself caught between the attentions of Lord Mersey—well above her social status—and Soap the sootie—well below her social status. For the most part, interactions stay proper, although Soap does kiss her on the lips near the end of the book. She worries that romantic feelings will destroy her friendship with him, and she sees no happy ending for this.
Male anatomy is fascinating to these proper girls. Sophronia sees the sooties skinnydipping and is horrified, but also wishes for binoculars because she’s too far away to see anything. When she lets it slip later that she was watching, Soap is embarrassed. Sidheag has grown up with werewolves, and therefore the naked male form is familiar to her—after all, the clothes don’t change with the werewolves. She describes the male anatomy in a humorous and completely nonsexual way (like a sausage in an ill-fitting casing) and one of the other girls flatly won’t believe her. My daughter did find all of this amusing, but also wasn’t really comfortable with it.
It is, of course, inherent to the setting. But it’s also quietly subverted and the girls are learning how to use their apparent inferiority to their advantage. When Lord Mersey is condescendingly attentive to her, Sophronia calls him “my big, strong man” in a manner that the reader realizes she’s being quietly sarcastic.
Vieve wants to go to the school for evil geniuses, but a girl could never attend. She has an elaborate plan to attend as a boy.
Sophronia ends up getting drawn into Vieve’s plan. One of the instructors at the boys’ school knows that Vieve is a girl, so she wants him removed from the school. Sophronia sets out to destroy his character, getting him fired. It works, but it has consequences beyond what she could have imagined. She feels guilty and awful about her role. Vieve points out that Sophonia set things in motion, but she didn’t force the people to make the choices they did. This is small comfort. Sophronia forces herself to witness the consequences of her actions, even when she would rather not. For the first time, she wonders if she’s really cut out for this.
The issue of Soap’s race seems to have faded—it’s rarely mentioned. His social standing is the bigger issue. Sophronia continues to see him as one of her best friends, and when she has to put her arms around him when riding a werewolf, the discomfiture comes from his muscles and the fact that she finds him attractive.
There’s not a lot of gore, but there is some. A vampire falls from a great distance which is a pretty intense scene. He doesn’t die, but he’s terribly injured. He drinks blood from the wrists of two willing people—not at all a proper thing to do in public. Sophronia arrives at a vampire hive house after a failed attempt at metamorphosis. The victim is quite bloody and soon to be dead, but we only see her in passing.
As expected, I enjoyed it very much. It’s definitely a sequel, and the books must be read in order to make sense. I liked that Sophronia is starting to have some qualms about what she might have to do to be a good spy. My daughter (now 13 years old) thoroughly enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the first one—I think she enjoyed the clash of cultures between Sophronia’s school and home, which weren’t present at all in this book.
Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
Published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company
Second in the Finishing School series, after Etiquette & Espionage and followed by Waistcoats & Weaponry and Manners & Mutiny
Read our personal hardback copy—but only after my daughter got to read it first.