Fourteen-year-old Sophronia lives in an alternate Victorian Britain whizzing along with all manner of amazing clockwork gadgetry where the aristocracy and military are dominated by vampires and werewolves respectively. (These supernatural citizens are usually too polite to eat the general populace uninvited but, well-there are misunderstandings) Her despairing mother has
had enough of her tomboyish romps and unladylike love for mathematics and engineering. To her horror the girl is whisked off to the terribly exclusive Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, which overlooks the lonely English moors in a dramatic and very original fashion.
Secret and Peculiar Schools are certainly commonplace to young readers, but this institution has a curriculum as unusual as its lofty location. Along with the classical academic subjects, manners, and poise, the young ladies of Mme. Geraldine's are studying to become intelligencers-spies! They will learn all the social graces to gossip, flatter, connive, and seduce information from hapless targets. When that objective is achieved the girls may be required to use unarmed combat, knives, or poison and really "finish" the job. Intrigued, Sophronia applies herself to the demanding coursework despite having the Worst Curtsy in the Empire. She even learns to enjoy the formerly forbidding feminine disciplines of High Fashion, the Coy Smile, and the devastating Batted Eyelashes.
She will make a diverse circle of friends (even cute working-class boys!). With every chapter we meet the highly eccentric staff, Mean Girls, young mad scientists in training, dangerous aerial pirates called flywaymen, and and elite clique of steamgoths, "The Pistons" (more cute boys). Of course Sophronia and the gang will have to solve a big-time mystery without getting demerits. This first book of the new trilogy mostly concerns exploring the school and the wider crazy world around it. The reader will be satisfied and thoroughly entertained while looking forward to the laughs and increasing intrigue ahead. --reviewed by Chris from Compass Books SFO