Curtsies & Conspiracies

Gail Carriger
Curtsies & Conspiracies Cover

Curtsies & Conspiracies


After last weekend's wacky hijinks with Etiquette and Espionage, I was luckily able to immediately get hold of the sequel, Curtsies and Conspiracies, by Gail Carriger. Curtsies and Conspiracies follows Sophronia Angelina Temminick as she returns for her second semester at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Qualit-Tay, a school in a large dirigible that trains young gentlewomen to be spies.

The main plot in this novel concerns another crystalline valve, no longer a prototype, and smaller than the plot valve in the last book. Adorable Baby Genevieve thinks this one has to do with protocols rather than communications, which, being something to do with real telecommunications instead of purely Carrigerian steampunk technobabble, is the single thing in the book I had the hardest time getting my head around (Reason I Am Not An Engineer #34825976389274573289574). It also seems to have something to do with Sophronia's flibbertigibbet roommate, Dimity Plumleigh-Teignmott, the daughter of evil geniuses but who just wants to be a regular proper lady and wear sparkly things. Or possibly with her younger brother Pillover, a sulky but ultimately kindhearted ten-year-old student at Bunsen's academy for evil geniuses. At any rate, Dimity is nearly kidnapped by some thugs on multiple occasions, until the final act of the story when she actually is kidnapped and we start figuring out what's going on, but of course I'm not going to tell you what it was.

Sophronia spends much of the first half of the book being ostracized by her friends as a result of getting distressingly high marks on her midyear exams, so she hangs out with Vieve and Soap instead. Soap, predictably but quite charmingly, is developing into an awkward love interest that Sophronia is in utter denial about, because she has espionage to do. Something is up with the odious Monique de Pelouse, who is not going to be finishing after all, but who is planning a dreadfully lavish coming-out ball in London. Something else seems to be up with a bunch of the teachers, including the unfortunately moustachioed but otherwise very dapper vampire etiquette teacher, Professor Braithewope. Things get even more complicated when the finishing school acquires guests—and the guests are boys. Specifically, they are one Professor Shrimpdittle from Bunsen's, and a host of Bunsen students, including Pillover Plumleigh-Teignmott, a chinless family friend of Dimity's named Lord Dingleproops, and an arrogant, broody, and very wealthy Viscount's heir named Felix Golborne, Lord Mersey, who develops a fantastically irritating crush on Sophronia. Dingleproops and Mersey are a part of a new clique at Bunsen's that seems to be Gail Carriger's dig at disaffected teenage Goth steampunks, as these guys brood a lot, dress predominantly in black with brass/bronze accents, sew gears to their clothes to no useful purpose, and wear eyeliner. They also are dreadfully snobbish and like going to parties and spiking the punch. I want to condescendingly pinch all their cheeks and then hand them all over to Jillian Venters for some finishing.

There are some very fun cameos by characters who either show up in or are deaded by the Parasol Protectorate series, including the dewan, the old potentate, the Lord Woolsey before Conall Maccon becomes Lord Woolsey (Maccon only shows up indirectly, via Sidheag's dialogue about "Gramps"), Countess Nasdasdy, and some other Westminster Hive members. But the crowning glory of cameos goes to the brief but memorable carriage lift Sophronia gets from Lord Akeldama, who, in a very Lord Akeldama-ish fashion, insists upon being in no way involved in anything but seems interested in possibly recruiting Sophronia for not-getting-involved purposes when she is finished. I fervently hope this means more Lord Akeldama in the rest of the series, because Lord Akeldama is perfection itself. I want to be Lord Akeldama when I grow up, even though I think I'd be terribly unsuited to it.

Sophronia is an unabashedly wish-fulfillment-y character and I am not complaining, because everything about her and her situations is so colorful and wacky-hijink-related. I think the thing that really is the problem with most wish-fulfillmenty characters are that they are boring and there is often a lack of tension, but the multiple plot threads Sophronia keeps juggling—particularly her moral dilemmas about an attempt at character assassination that she's really not properly trained how to do—keeps things fast-paced, and everything and everyone is just too clever and bizarre to be boring. It's sort of like Victorian teenage girl James Bond (which, as a girl who likes Victorian things, I like better than regular James Bond, but apparently a lot of people find James Bond not at all boring, is what I'm getting at).

I am desolated that I have to wait several months for the sequel and for the beginning of the Custard Protocol series. Whatever shall I do with myself?