I received this book from the publisher.
There are spoilers ahead for the first two books of this series, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and Conspiracies. I’m also going to talk about the very end of this book, but I’ll let you know when that’s about to happen.
I continue to be impressed by the fact that the problem set up in the first book, about the mysterious crystalline valve, has continued to be a significant plot point across the three books of the series so far. Aside from a simple continuity of characters, this makes the series feel more cohesive than it otherwise might and it’s something I especially did not expect from an adventures-at-school book. Sorry for doubting you, Carriger. It does of course continue to develop, until here we start to see how the valve might actually be used nefariously. The other intriguing, if fleeting, piece of continuity is Professor Braithwope’s mental instability, caused either by the snapping of his vampiric tether or his experience in the aether. It would have been nice to see a bit more resolution of this, but I’m glad he hasn’t simply been abandoned.
The focus of the series, of course, is the growing friendship of the girls – Sophronia and Dimity especially, but Agatha and Sidheag as well. (Sophronia is the central protagonist throughout; Dimity got a starring role in C&C; Sidheag has her turn in this book… which surely means that the fourth book will finally give us some Agatha love? She’s absolutely the most mysterious at this point – apparently from great wealth, there’s no hint about why she’s at Miss Geraldine’s, and given her apparently mouse-like character how could she ever survive as an intelligencer? So that’s something to hope for.) Sophronia and Dimity continue to be inseparable; I was concerned that Dimity was just going to be the slightly dopey sidekick, but again I should have trusted Carriger; she’s definitely got a mind of her own, and although she doesn’t try that hard to stop Sophronia being mad, she doesn’t just go along blindly. I was glad to see more of Sidheag, while feeling sorry for the reason behind it. Solid female friendships are a lovely lovely thing.
One of my disappointments with this book is the same as in Curtsies and Conspiracies: the boys. There’s a lot of anguishing over Lord Mersey and Soap. Felix is a useful person to know but he’s a right pain in the butt and I got pretty sick of him, it must be said; his overly familiar and pushy attitude towards Sophronia was irritating and bordering on offensive. I like Soap. I can appreciate the we’re-just-friends narrative, as well as everyone rolling their eyes at the idea that Sophronia is so naive. I really appreciate that this is a cross-race and – perhaps even more pertinently – cross-class friendship/might-be romance. Felix vs Soap isn’t much fun, though, bordering on possessiveness sometimes. Sophronia doesn’t really put up with it, which is good, but it still bugged me.
But not as much as the ending… thus SPOILERS NOW. (So skip the next paragraph or just know that I did enjoy it and still look forward to the fourth book later this year.)
I knew that there was going to be some drama involving werewolves and Soap wanting to change from about the middle of the book. As soon as there were guns pulled at the end I got that sinking feeling and yup, then Soap got shot right while Lord Slaughter happened to be standing there. Oh what a surprise. At least it wasn’t in protecting Sophronia directly. I did like that Sophronia saved her friend, and was wonderfully gallant in standing up to Slaughter and demanding he try – and that she stood by her promise to be indentured to him (HOO BOY). But… there’s still something about this turn of events that makes me uncomfortable. I’m glad Soap was saved, and yes he wanted to be a werewolf, but this is not on his terms. I can’t express it much better than this: it just wasn’t quite right.
I did like it, I really want to find out where Sophronia goes now, and I REALLY want a book featuring Agatha. You can get this one from Fishpond.