This was my first Steampunk book and I have to say it seemed like a great introduction to the subgenre. It combines all my favorite elements and then puts them in the past instead of the future for some unexpected fun.
While the story takes place in the past, there is care to neither overlook its injustices nor endorse them. It’s handled in different ways with different characters, some overlooking differences while others are admonished for them and more.
The protagonist, Sophronia, is a great character. She’s smart and sassy and flawed. She doesn’t exactly grow, but she learns and perfects new things throughout the story and so does most of the rest of the side characters.
Those side characters were a lot of fun too. They were all interesting and different from one another despite that they are all at the school because of things they have in common. They are seen primarily through the eyes of the protagonist, so their personalities and qualities are only seen in bits as she gets to know them. Nevertheless, the protagonist’s powers of observation are frequently described as superior, so the reader is still given a bit of depth to many of the characters.
The whole concept of the school was a lot of fun for many reasons. While the story itself surrounds the girl’s school, there is a comparable boy’s school in this world and we even get to know a student. The subjects and lessons of the school are fun because of the way it plays with the past and realizes that even women back then were whole people with motivations and interests outside of what we “should” be interested in. The teachers go over all the things we tend to look back on as too feminine and frivolous in a way that makes me think I was always underestimating them. It gives me a whole new appreciation for women who do excel at the feminine aspects of life. That is a part of the fun, because we do get to watch Sophronia learn a new appreciation for these things as well.
And the last thing that I really loved about this was the total lack of love interests. I am so tired of every story having to have at least one love interest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually happy to see a story with just one, but none can be just as entertaining. It doesn’t always bring something to the story. I have nothing against romance or romantic subplots, but let it give something to the story! Instead, Carriger opted out of the love story altogether and I feel like the story was all the better for it.
If you’ve never read steampunk but love sci-fi, give it a try. If you have read steampunk, I’m looking for more recommendations. Fortunately, this is a series and one of three from this writer, so there’s lots more fun to be had!