Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger
Almost surprisingly, Sophronia is back at Mademoiselle Geraldine's for one more year of finishing, but it seems like her outside agreements with the Dewan, outside forces, and even Sophronia's own schemes might keep her from finishing after all.
Carriger set up an odd challenge for herself when she started this series, it's 25-30 years before her Parasol Protectorate series and yet starts off with far more advanced, pervasive technology, which was never mentioned in the PP series at all. So she's set up a series where she's essentially ret-conning the setting by the last book. Oh sure I could tell what she was going to do, find a reason for society to reject their mechanicals (robots) so that everything would fall in place for PP after just one book, hence why I've never considered that a spoiler (and that of course these books would deal with that situation, Carriger isn't the type of write who would let such a plot unfold as a complicated, back-sub-plot). So we reach my first problem with the books: I love setting above all else in a story and this is a surprisingly complex one. I was skeptical two books ago that everything would unfold well since it would have to play out so carefully and this is not a careful book. It's rather pulpy, full of characters having dashing adventures, teens continually out-smarting people who we are told to be very clever adults, and in some ways I feel like this book is closer to middle grade than young adult fiction since the story just doesn't hold together as tightly, despite the age of the characters. This is true of the entire series in the end, not just this book, but I'm going to try and limit my thoughts to just this installment since it's been too long since I've read the other books to give them a fair review.
So, while the plot telegraphed itself well in advance that the mechanicals would be a major part of the plot and that the story would end with them being removed from this alternative, historical English society, it handled the fallout from this about as well as I expected which wasn't very well at all. Funny enough, my review tomorrow is going to touch on how quickly people forget events etc but this wasn't just an event, this was a physical part of people's lives for a good decade and so people never bringing this up again runs completely contrary to my own life experiences involving people talk about earlier parts of their life. Is there anyway this could have succeeded? Honestly I don't think so which for me is a black mark against the entire series as well.
I'm also not sure this story needed to be four volumes instead of three, the romance for sure could have been wrapped up in the third volume and I felt that keeping the romantic subplots going this long did very little to heighten any drama or tension. This may be partially due to the fact that in the end, I didn't really like any of the characters either. Again, a lot of this has to do with the setting/set-up of the story, it revolves around Sophronia and her friends, all at a school for spies, dealing mostly with adults who are spies themselves, and yet this book has the first instance where their teachers come even close to catching the girls as they do something against the rules. I'm going to have a hard time taking anything in the story seriously if you set up ideas like that only to immediately and unintentionally break them, and I do wonder if this is why spy stories tend to be MG instead of YA more often in the first place since I've had this complaint about other series before. Even when the characters aren't gallivanting around trying to look dashing, they all felt very empty to me and I just didn't feel as if any of them had made any lasting developments.
So, if I've said that the setting was bad, the plot was lackluster as an extension, and that the characters bored me, can I recommend this series now that it's over? Honestly not really, I still enjoy PP but I feel as if this series, and Carriger's other concurrent series The Custard Protocol, in some ways suffer from being too attached to PP. These series don't feel as if she said "oh I have new ideas in this universe!" because they are still too tethered to the PP characters. Heck if I read it right, there is a very direct connection to PP here at the end of this story and it's one that I didn't like, it was another bit of ret-conning and one I didn't really like. And, I think this is where I stop reading her books. I was considering this after Prudence honestly (again, connection problem and the books have had a bit too much "mighty whitey" lately) and at this point, yeah, I just don't think there's anything for me in her books anymore.