About the Books
Sophronia Temminnick's mother is at her wits end. Her daughter insists on unladylike behavior, such as riding in dumbwaiters and dismantling mechanicals. So Mrs. Temminnick enrolls Sophronia at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Temminnick Mademoiselle Geraldine's is not a typical finishing school. It trains young ladies for covert operations, and Sophronia is the type of recruit they love best.
Why We Love Them
1. The Characters' Names
Call me crazy, but the characters' names are pretty much my very favorite thing about these books. Sophronia Temminnick, Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott, Sigheag Maccon, Monique de Polouse, Soap. These are just about the greatest names in all of YA literature.
2. The Mix of Paranormal and Steampunk Elements
Why settle for one when you can have both? That definitely seems to be Gail Carriger's approach with the Finishing School series. Sure there are werewolves and vampires, but there are also steam-powered engines, mechanicals, and mechanimals. But it's not always an easy alliance between the paranormal and the technological.
3. Girl Spies
I love girl spies because no one expects a prim and properly finished girl to also be adept at espionage, but that is only one of the reasons these girls are so adept at spying. These girls are also talented and highly trained.(More girl spies here, here, here, and here.)
4. The Weapons
A lady never goes anywhere without a handkerchief, but at Mademoiselle Geraldine's, the reasoning is more complex. I love the way even the most innocuous things, like sewing scissors or a fan, are weapons in this series. I also enjoy the inventive weapons and maneuvers, like the wicker chicken and the fan and sprinkle.
5. The School Setting
I love a good school setting. Any kind of magical training, or spy training, or arts training in a YA book is greatly enhance by a fantastic school, and Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is a fantastic school. The teachers range from a werewolf who can't float, to a vampire who needs to be fed, to a teacher who thinks she works at a completely normal finishing school. The uneasy partnership with the Bunson and Lacroix's Boys' Polytechnique (a school for the training of evil geniuses) puts the whole enterprise right over the top for me.
6. The Dirigible
And Mademoiselle Geraldine's is not located in any run-of-the-mill building, it's in a dirigible. A floating mechanized spy school is the best idea. It's patrolled by a brigade of mechanicals and takes a veritable army of sooties to keep the ship afloat. It's location (and very existence) is mostly a secret. The floating nature of the school makes the inevitable sneaking around that much more harrowing.
7. Alternate History
I'm always up for an alternate history. Costume drama, am I right? I just love to see how authors mix real history with imagination. The details in the Victorian Steampunk setting are really what make the story for me. The floating school, the mechanimals, and the flyway men are brilliant inventions. (More alternate histories here, here, here, and here.)
Sophronia is marvelous, and she definitely anchors the story, but it's her friends that make this series so endearing. Sophronia could never execute her schemes without her roommates Dimity, Agnes, and Sigheag and Soap and the sooties. Dimity's brother, Pilllover, and inventor extraordinaire, Vieve Lefoux also play crucial roles. I actually quite like Felix Mersey, as well.