Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School Series, #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
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Synopsis: It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.
Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners—and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.
But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage—in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.
Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail Carriger's legions of fans have come to adore.
After a quarter of an hour, the man's hand, the one holding the gun, began shaking from fatigue.
"Where is it?" he hissed at Mademoiselle Geraldine.
"I told you, young man, you will not find it here. Whatever it is." She tossed her head. Actually tossed it!
"Impossible. We know you have it. You must have it!"
The headmistress looked off to the far distant horizon, nose elevated. "Your information would appear to be faulty."
"Come with me. You, children, stay here." The man dragged Mademoiselle Geraldine from the carriage. The headmistress struggled briefly, but finding the man's strength superior to her own, she subsided.
"Where's the coachman?" Sophronia hissed to Dimity and Pillover.
"Probably overcome by physical assault," said Dimity.
"Or dead," added Pillover.
"How'd they get to us? I didn't hear any horses or anything!"
Pillover pointed up. "Sky highwaymen. Haven't you heard of them?"
"Well, yes, but I didn't think they actually existed."
"Must have been hired by someone," Dimity said. "What do you think the prototype is for?"
"Does it matter?" her brother asked.
"You think she actually has it?" Sophronia wondered.
Pillover looked at Sophronia with something like pity in his dark eyes. "Of course she has it. Question is, did she hide it well enough?"
"Or did she make a copy?" added Dimity.
"Is it safe to let them they they've won?"
"And was she thinking that far ahead?"
Sophronia interrupted their speculation. "That's a lot of questions."
They heard Mademoiselle Geraldine say something sharp to the men rifling through the luggage. All three looked out the open door to see what would happen next. The flywayman with the gun struck the headmistress across the face with his free hand.
"Oh, dear," said Sophronia. "Violence." She suppressed panic and a strange urge to giggle. She'd never before seen a grown man actually hit a woman.
Dimity looked slightly green.
Pillover's small face became drawn behind his round spectacles. "I don't think she planned for this."
His assessment seemed correct, for Mademoiselle Geraldine proceeded to have a bout of hysterics, culminating in a very dramatic faint in the middle of the road.
"Quite the performance. My sister Petunia once acted like that over a mouse."
"You think she's shamming?" Dimity was inclined to be impressed.
"Shamming or not, she seems to have hung us out to dry." Sophronia pursed her lips. I don't want to go to finishing school, but I don't exactly want to be kidnapped by flywaymen either.
The carriage lurched up again.
Sophronia looked at the ceiling. The flywaymen's transport must be tied to the luggage rails above. She put two and two together: the flywayman's goggles plus his onion-shaped pin. Balloon transport. At which point Sophronia decided she had better do something about their predicament. "We need to cit the balloon's ties to the carriage and get to the driver's box and take command of the horses. Once we get moving, can we outrun them?"
Pillover nodded. "No scientist has figured out how to make air transport move as quickly as ground. Although there were some interesting dirigible prototypes in the last month's Junior Guide to Scientific Advancements and Amoral Superiority. Something about utilizing the aether currents, but nothing on balloons, so-"
Dimity interrupted her brother. "Yes, thank you, Pill." Clearly prattling was a family trait even Pillover was prone to indulge in sometimes.
"So?" said Sophronia. "Resources. What do you two have?"
Pillover emptied the pockets of his oversized greatcoat: some pine-sap gum, a monocole on a stick-the Departed Lens of Cripsy Manification, perhaps?-and a long piece of ribbon that probably started life in his sister's hair. Dimity produced a box of sandwiches, a wooden spoon, and a knitted stuffed octopus out of the small covered basket at her feet. All Sophronia had was the piece of sponge she'd swiped at tea and stashed in her apron, now sadly crushed.
She split it into three and they ate the cake and thought hard.
None of the enemy paid them any mind. The three flywaymen had given up demolishing the luggage and now stood arguing. Mademoiselle Geraldine was still firmly fainted.
"No time like the present," said Sophronia, grabbing Pillover's magnification lens. She climbed out of the small window of the carriage, the one on the side facing away from the flywaymen.
Carriages, as it turned out, were a whole lot easier to climb than dumbwaiters. Sophronia hoisted herself onto the top of the cab, unseen by the men below. There she found a large and colorful airdinghy tied to the roof. It wasn't made of one balloon, but four, each attached to a corner of a passenger basket about the size of a small rowboat. In the center of the basket sprouted up a mast, higher than the balloons, with a sail unfurled. Steering propellers were suspended below. These were moving slightly, hovering directly above Sophronia's head as she crawled across the carriage roof. They looked quite sharp. Keeping an eye on them, she made her way over to the mooring point.
The rope was tied firmly about the luggage rail and impossible to work loose.
Sophronia pulled out Pillover's magnification lens and, angling it to catch the sun, began to burn through the rope. The acrid smell of scalded fiber permeated the air, but her activities remained unobserved. It seemed to take forever, but eventually the rope burned away to a point where Sophronia could break it. The airdinghy bobbed up, caught a slight breeze, and drifted away.
Without pausing to survey the effects of her handiwork, Sophronia crawled over and lowered herself down onto the driver's box. The coachman lay slumped to one side. There was a large red mark on his forehead. She relieved him of the reins and clucked the horses into motion. She was perfectly well aware of how inappropriate it was for a young lady of fourteen to drive a coach, but circumstances sometimes called for extreme measures. (Chapter 2, pgs. 24-28)