Gail Carriger has been burning up the bestseller lists with her Finishing School series, and now you can read an exciting excerpt from book three, Waistcoats & Weaponry. Warning: Bladed fans ahead!
Here's a plot summary of the book, from the publisher:
Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style—with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what—or who—they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all.
Waistcoats & Weaponry will be on sale November 4, and you can pre-order now!
Captain Niall's classes took place groundside, on the moor proper. Like all werewolves, he was unable to float. His classes also involved all the students at the school together, some thirty- eight or so, fewer than when Sophronia had first arrived. Many of the older girls had gone out into society, and Mademoiselle
Geraldine's hadn't taken on an equivalent number of debuts.
The school sank as far as it safely could, the propeller whirling to steady the airship against the winds, and the staircase folded down. The deployment crank was manned by a couple of sooties up from engineering. One of them— a tall, good-looking young man with ebony skin and a quick white smile—issued Sophronia a private wink. She should, of course, have been shocked by such forwardness from an underling, but Soap was one of Sophronia's best friends and favorite people in the world. So she winked back— when she knew none of the teachers were watching, of course.
Once the staircase settled, partly sunk into the green grasses, the young ladies trooped down.
Captain Niall was waiting for them. Their werewolf teacher was a truly handsome beast, if one overlooked the fact that his top hat was tied neatly under his chin, he wore no shoes, and his carefully buttoned greatcoat did not quite conceal that the rest of him was indecently bare. For some of the young ladies, not overlooking these facts actually increased the man's appeal.
"Good evening, ladies," said Captain Niall in his velvet voice. "And how are we tonight?" The girls chorused polite replies, some of them blushing; the youngest ones— not yet trained in the correct method— curtsied too deeply. Sophronia was pleased to note that her curtsy was nearly perfect.
"Follow me, if you would?"
Captain Niall led them down the hill to a small creek. He produced a leather case from the depths of his greatcoat. About the size of a lady's jewelry case, it looked particularly dainty in his large hands. Despite his size, Captain Niall had a harmless, floppy demeanor. Most people forgot that he was, in actuality, a supernatural creature who could decapitate the average ruffian as easily as peeling an orange, and probably faster.
"Now, on to this month's weapon."
What weapon is so tiny thirty- eight of them fit into such a small case? Sophronia wondered.
With a flourish, the werewolf flipped the lid, displaying the contents. The case was full of fans— clunky and not very pretty fans, at that.
"Ladies, please form a queue. One each."
The girls lined up by age and each received a fan. Sophronia was startled by how heavy hers was. Close examination showed that the fan's leaves were fabric but its ribs and guards were metal, the tips razor sharp. A fan that is also a weapon, ingenious!
Captain Niall began to demonstrate movements. Many of the techniques were similar to those of the letter opener, in whose deadly application they'd already received much instruction. He expanded on their existing repertoire, with butterfly-like movements. There were sharp, quick slashes designed to surprise. There was no stabbing with the fan; the idea was to disarm and disable, not kill. It was amusing to see a werewolf waving a fan about like some imitation of an exotic dancer in the music halls.
The girls practiced with leather guards over their fans, for safety. This also kept Dimity from fainting. Over a year and a half of training to be an intelligencer and Dimity still fainted at the sight of blood. Poor thing, she wasn't meant for this lifestyle.
Sophronia adored the bladed fan the moment she took it through the first pass. As a result, she tried extra hard to master the movements. Captain Niall was impressed. After an hour's work, he summoned her forward.
"Miss Temminnick, Miss Buss? You're both looking well. How about a small duel?" The teacher's mellow brown eyes shone with anticipated glee.
Sophronia had never before faced Preshea one-to-one, but she was game. Particularly after Preshea's dig against Agatha.
Preshea gave her a nasty smile, tucked a stray lock of glossy black hair behind one perfect, shell- like ear, and took up the guard position. Or at least Sophronia assumed it was guard position— hard to tell in skirts. One of the advantages of being a fighting female: legs were, for all practical purposes, invisible.
Their movements were cautious and clumsy at first, nothing like Captain Niall's speedy grace. Preshea mostly attacked and Sophronia mostly defended.
Captain Niall shouted instructions, which Sophronia— at least— tried to obey.
"Miss Temminnick, try the treble clef defense. Miss Buss, the fleur de lys attack. Well done! And now, Miss Temminnick, the pirouette. Oh, look, ladies, she's already doing it."
The girls crowded around, fascinated.
Captain Niall switched from instruction to commentary.
"Now Miss Temminnick has taken up the Valkyrie flip. Note the curves of her movements? And a very nice snap of the wrist there from Miss Buss."
Sophronia caught the flicker of the werewolf's hands as he gestured for the other students to collectively do something, but her attention was taken up with Preshea.
The ground beneath her feet became uneven and squishy. Captain Niall was using the crowd to herd the two fighters onto the bank of the stream.
Sophronia had barely a moment to realize this, for several things happened in quick succession.
Preshea stripped the leather guard off her fan. With a yell of triumph she cut in, slicing at Sophronia's unprotected face.
Sophronia reeled, raising her free hand in defense. Her pagoda sleeve fell away, exposing the undersleeve. Preshea's fan sliced easily through the muslin and into the flesh below Sophronia's left elbow. A few of the younger girls shrieked. There was a thump and skirts rustled. Dimity had fainted.
Captain Niall cried halt, but Preshea was out for more blood. A look came into her beautiful eyes that was more common during poison class. Captain Niall would have intervened, but Sophronia met his eyes briefly and shook her head. She did not strip the guard off her own fan, but she did switch from defense to attack. Also, she began to employ not only the slashing letter-opener technique Captain Niall had taught her but some of the dirty fighting she'd learned from Soap.
She commenced a flurry of quick nips and twists, half-fleur attacks designed to alarm but not injure. Preshea was forced to guard, not realizing that Sophronia's real intent was to edge about so that she was uphill from her opponent. Soon Sophronia was pressing Preshea back, closer to the stream.
With her injured arm, Sophronia reached for her chatelaine and the small bottle of perfume dangling there, the one they were instructed to carry at all times. She used to stock rose oil, but an incident during her debut had left her with a marked preference for lemon-infused tinctures in a metal flask with snap-top lid.
With Preshea distracted by the wickedly darting fan, Sophronia poured out a quantity of the perfumed alcohol with, and into, her free hand. Then she flicked the liquid into Preshea's eyes.
The girl squealed and stumbled back, straight into the stream, landing on her bottom with a splash. Her beautiful skirts poufed out around her before sagging as they absorbed the muddy water. The skirts—a rich purple color, in a modern petal cut—looked remarkably like a water lily before they deflated. Afterward, the dress looked more like a wrinkled old prune.
There was a round of giggles and some gloved applause from their fellow students.
Being a true gentleman, Captain Niall went into the stream to offer Preshea a hand up.
"Now, Miss Buss, bloodthirstiness is all well and good, but you ought to have stopped the moment you bloodied Miss Temminnick. First blood always ends a duel."
Preshea pouted prettily and offered no excuse, although she eagerly accepted his assistance.
The werewolf turned to Sophronia. "Miss Temminnick, commendable defense. You are to be applauded for not buckling under the pain. Now let Lady Kingair see to your injury. Lady Kingair?"
Of course, Captain Niall would suppose that Sidheag had knowledge of wounds, being the child of a werewolf pack. But Sidheag was not there.
Captain Niall's boyish face looked older when he frowned. "Where is Lady Kingair? It's not like her to miss my class. Miss Woosmoss?"
Agatha looked panicked by the direct attention of the teacher.
"Called away by Professor Lefoux," said Sophronia, gritting her teeth at the pain, which, now that she'd stopped running about with a fan, was quite intense. "She had a pigeon."
Captain Niall continued to frown. "A pigeon? We shall see about that. Miss Woosmoss, perhaps you would wrap Miss Temminnick's arm? I think you are not the type to faint."
Agatha nodded, colored, and shook her head, trying to respond to both statements without actually saying anything.
Sophronia, feeling weak, sat down abruptly on the mossy bank, despite the inevitable damage to her own skirts. Oh, well, her dress was probably ruined anyway; blood was near to impossible to get out of silk.
Agatha squeaked and ran over to her.
Rather callously, Captain Niall continued with class. "Ladies! What did we learn from Miss Temminnick's tactics?"
"She used the terrain to her advantage," said one.
"Exactly so, obstacles are not always a detriment. What else?"
"Uh, sir," came a timid voice. "It's Dimity, sir. She's fainted."
Captain Niall, well used to Dimity, since his classes were the ones most likely to produce blood, said only, "Apply the smelling salts to the silly chit, do."
He turned back to Sophronia. "The arm?"
"I'll do," said Sophronia, although the pain was, if possible, more intense under Agatha's ministrations. The redhead had dipped her handkerchief into the creek and was patting clumsily at the gash.
Sophronia realized why the werewolf was keeping his distance and acting so uncaring. She explained in a low voice to Agatha, "He won't come check. My blood probably smells too tasty."
Agatha blanched and looked with wide eyes at their teacher, whose general attitude and demeanor were not significantly different from normal. He was very good at putting on a front. They had learned from Sidheag that this was also a sign of age in werewolves.
Sophronia said to Agatha, "Why not apply some of my lemon tincture? Sister Mattie always says alcohol helps clean cuts, and the lemon scent will hide the smell of my blood."
Agatha reached for the little bottle hanging from Sophronia's waist. Since she hadn't recapped it during the fight, most of it had sloshed out, but there was enough left to pour over the wound. Agatha then wrapped Sophronia's arm with her handkerchief.
"All good, Captain Niall," said Sophronia as Agatha helped her to stand.
The werewolf sniffed and then raised both eyebrows. "Goodness, I can't even smell . . . Miss Woosmoss, what did you do?"
Agatha said tremulously, "Sophronia's idea, sir. We used her perfume to clean the wound and modify the scent."
Captain Niall came over. "Remarkable." He turned back to the other girls. "Now, who would like to duel next? Keeping the leather guards on this time, please."
Sophronia retreated up the bank to sit next to Dimity, who was coming 'round.
"What did I miss?" Dimity sat up, patting at her bonnet to check the straw for injury.
"Oh, nothing much, I dumped Preshea in the river." Sophronia gestured to where Preshea stood, bedraggled and shivering in a shawl, surrounded by solicitous girls.
"Oh, bother. That's your best so far."
Sophronia grinned. "You know, I might agree with you there." She looked down at the fan she still held in her good hand. "I believe I may have to get myself one of these. Do you think they are available on Bond Street or will I have to special order?"
"You will have to order several in different colors to match all your outfits," said Dimity with conviction. She was always serious about the fashionable side of matters deadly.