Finishing School?

Reading out of my comfort zone and almost out of my vocabulary has fulfilled the advice by TV pundits this week. I’ve been reading a series of books by Gail Carriger in the steampunk category. Now, steampunk is not in the dictionary I normally use, and my computer keeps underlining it in red, hence the “almost out of my vocabulary.” However, Google comes to the rescue with several sources that define it as a subgenre of science fiction based on steam power inventions taking place in an historical period or fantasy world. First recorded use of the word is 1987, and it now covers clothing styles as well as literature.

Better than the definition, let me take you to the recipe Gail Carriger uses for Etiquette and Espionage, Courtesies and Conspiracies, and Waistcoats and Weaponry. Start with a world reminiscent of Jane Austin with a mother who sends her daughter Sophronia off to finishing school where the cover of learning the niceties in life cloaks a course in intrigue and espionage. Locate the school on a floating dirigible. Stir in an element of trust problems with werewolves, vampires, Picklemen, Pistons, and flywaymen. Blend in catty girls, sibling rivalry, and romance.  Add mechanicals, hurliers, and crystalline valve prototypes. Season to taste with Victorian vocabulary and humor.

Given a chance to review the advance copy of Waistcoats and Weaponry that was released early this month, I decided I needed to read them all in order. That worked well with each building on the previous book. In this case, each one seems to improve on the last which does not always happen in series.

Bumbershoot, Sophronia’s mechanical, in the form of a reticule demonstrates Carriger’s ability to combine Victorian language, the steam power mechanical, and fun. In fact, her humor sometimes delves into deliberately inserting something of the modern day into this fantasy world – “with a maniacal laugh that, if inscribed for posterity, might have been written as ‘Mua ha ha’.”

These are books for readers who like this genre and for those like me who could live in a world of historical fiction and nonfiction but like to expand their horizons. The advice from the TV pundits advocated taking on something different outside your comfort zone for continuing mental sharpness. I’ve done that and feel infinitely sharper for having followed Sophronia and her friends and enemies through an unusual world. Now, I have a biography calling.