Waistcoats & Weaponry is the third in what will be the Finishing School quartet (the final book is scheduled to be published November 2015). The novels should be read in order, so start with Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies before reading this one.
The finishing school itself plays a minor role in this novel—the girls leave the school about a quarter of the way through the book and don’t return (although Sophronia and Dimity are headed back when the book ends).
Sidheag is dealing with personal issues that will be familiar to any reader of The Parasol Protectorate (which I now want to read again, and which I’m thinking are nearly appropriate for my daughter now that she’s 14). Sophronia, Dimity, Soap, and Felix set out to help her get back home to Scotland as soon as possible. Along the way, they highjack a train and are chased by Flywaymen in dirigibles.
Much of the drama is interpersonal as Sophronia finds herself torn between Soap and Felix, as well as trying to decide who to accept as a patron once she graduates.
This is a swashbuckling installment in the always amusing series. Some readers may miss the school and wish for less romantic angst, but overall it’s light and amusing even as the world as they know it is threatened.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Romance and Seduction
As the girls get older, they’re starting to learn the art of seduction since that’s a valuable tool. They are still explicitly in the dark about where this could possibly lead, but they’re learning the advantages of being able to wind someone around your finger. Felix for one is strongly affected by Sophronia’s seductive skills (a gaze can reduce him to jelly) and Sophronia is both intrigued and a bit scared by this power she apparently has.
It becomes more obvious that Soap’s feelings for Sophronia are more than platonic and Sophronia continues to not quite know what to do with that. However, she’s quite aware of him physically (being a sootie results in very nice muscles) and she realizes that her friendship with him may also make him a good emotional match for her—he knows her very well, and that’s something she appreciates.
Marriage of course has nothing to do with romance or seduction. Sophronia knows it’s something that’s expected of her, and she should make a politically advantageous match. She wonders about Felix, but sees little point in attaching herself to the Picklemen unless she can get Felix out of their control. He seems quite intent on marrying her, although it’s not quite clear what that match would bring him.
Sophronia realizes that both class and race keep her from being able to consider Soap as a match, which makes her feel awful about herself. She wants to think herself above such concerns.
Sophronia’s mother is quite concerned about getting her daughters married off, and when the opportunity arises to insist that Sophronia marry Dimity’s brother Pillover, she does so. Technically, Sophronia and Pillover are engaged, which they both find rather amusing.
Felix’s father says some truly awful things about Soap, including calling him a darkie. Then another old white guy questions Soap’s worth, claiming that he’s not English based on his skin color. Dimity stands up for Soap—saying that of course he’s English and his skin is a lovely color—which shows growth in her character.
Soap wants to become a claviger of the werewolves because it’s one of the ways that someone of his class can move up in society. Sophronia doesn’t approve, but in the end she understands why he wants to and even makes it possible. She grows a lot in this book as well.
When werewolves change back to human form, they don’t have clothes. Usually arrangements are made to avoid uncomfortable situations, but emergencies in the book lead to Sophronia and Dimity seeing the werewolves in all their glory. This is dealt with humorously.
Felix’s father, one of the Picklemen, wouldn’t mind seeing all the girls dead. He fires canons at the train they’re on and shoots at them, giving Soap what could have been a fatal wound.
Loyalty and Friendship
When you’re part of training program for intelligencers, loyalty is something you can’t really afford—nor can you assume it’s something offered to you by those you consider friends. The girls prove loyal to one another and to Soap, but other loyalties are tested and occasionally found wanting. Sophronia is painfully aware that the true motivations of those around her must be questioned. She cannot afford to take anything for granted.
You’ll want to read the series in order, but if you got this far, you definitely want to keep reading. Although this book is a little more grown up with the focus on romantic entanglements, it’s not such a jump that it will leave any readers of the series behind. I snagged this before my daughter got a chance to read it—I’ll update the review once she’s finished it.
Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger
Published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
Third in the Finishing School series, after Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies, before Manners & Mutiny
Read the hardcover