Etiquette and Espionage
So, I screwed up. Somehow I managed to read the second book in this series before reading the first book. On the one hand, I’m bummed as I know what happens after this book, but on the other hand I was happy to get some more background on the characters. However, having read them out of order, I’d probably say that there’s now no excuse for the super quick wrap-up of the plot in the second book. I thought it was because the author was taking her time introducing the characters; turns out that’s not the case.
This book is a fun, quick read. I’m on vacation right now and between naps and big meals I read this book in one day. I enjoyed the introduction to the character I came to like in the second book, and I liked getting some explanation about the other girls at this school, which is ostensibly a finishing school set in steampunk England, but is also an intelligencer training program.
One really odd component, though, was the introduction of the only character that the author felt it necessary to assign an ethnicity, making me think that the author suffers from the same color-blindness that so many authors have – her characters are white, and she assumes everyone will think they are white, so she only really needs to offer descriptions of the ‘others.’ I do not like that, and really wish more authors would create richer, more diverse worlds. If you’re writing fiction, especially fiction with an alternate view of the universe, there’s no need to default to the racial stereotypes and heirarchies that exist. Or, if you’re going to, spend time dissecting those hierarchies and how problematic they are. But describing the one Black character by saying he was covered in soot and then having the main character express shock that he was from Africa once she realized that his skin was also a darker tone? That’s weird and comes across as super ignorant. If the character making that observation were one we weren’t supposed to like, or who didn’t have any complex view of the universe, or if there were any more exploration of the racial structure of the society, maaaaaaaaybe it would work. But it really doesn’t work in this book, and kind of pulled me out of the book for a while as I tried to figure out why the author thought that was an appropriate.
I think having read both books I still would recommend the series with that caveat; I think I might explore her adult stories set in the same type of world and see if she builds a more complex and diverse world there.