Looking for a great gift for a tween/teen girl? Or even someone a bit older (hey, I'm over 50)? Look no further.
I just finished Gail Carringer's Finishing School series. As noted in the first book:
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.
Set in a steampunk version of Victorian England, the stories focus on Sophronia, a 14-year-old girl who would rather take things apart than flirt with boys. She gets sent to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality (always pronounced quali-tay), a school set in interconnected dirigibles so it floats above the moors. It rapidly becomes apparent that this is more than an etiquette academy. Soon Sophronia has learned how to use a well-timed faint to her advantage. She excels at fighting with a fan tipped with steel blades.
This being a steampunk world, homes and school have tracks laid for mechanical servants to roll about and do their jobs. These same servants in the school can help enforce curfews as well. In addition, the world is inhabited by immortals, including werewolves and vampires. The latter live in hives, with mortal human drones who provide a food source for the vampires. Werewolves also tend to run in packs and cannot float, so a werewolf cannot board the school. Becoming an immortal is not as straightforward as in the usual literature; transition to either species is difficult and often not survived.
In addition to the mechanical slaves, there have to be human servants. For the school, the giant steam engines run through the efforts of sooties, black youth who shovel coal and fix the riggings. One of these young men, Soap, becomes acquainted with Sophronia as she galavants about the blimp against all the rules. Can you see the forbidden love interest from here?
Conflict occurs and drives adventures through 4 books. The Picklemen want to rid the world of immortals by taking control of the mechanicals that serve society. Of course, Sophronia and her entourage save England from an ugly fate. Her colleagues include immortals, a girl who lives as a boy, and a mechanical steam dog.
These books provide a lively romp through an alternate history. I just love imagining all these proper young ladies learning the feminine arts while doing very untraditional things. I also greatly appreciate that Sophronia chooses a nontraditional lifestyle in the end, rather than the politically influential marriage that most of the spy-maids enter. I won't spoil the ending, but it is worth every moment.
These four books seem to close the saga. I really wish they didn't and we could go on with Sophronia's adult adventures.
I also believe that this series could be the next big YA movie franchise. Are you listening, Hollywood?