Series, Spies, and Dirigibles

The Waistcoats & Weaponry audiobook cover

I can’t say that it was by accident that I purchased the audiobook of Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger. It wasn’t like I was under the influence of anything aside from sheer booklust inflamed by an Audible two-for-one sale. But I will admit that I didn’t look too terribly closely. If I had, I would have noticed one very important fact.

Waistcoats & Weaponry is not, in point of fact, the first novel in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series.

It is the third.

I am positively loath to jump in right in the middle of a series, but I was fresh off listening to an audiobook of the collected works of HP Lovecraft and found myself in dire need of something a bit… Lighter. Both in tone and vocabulary.

I adore Lovecraft, but I can only really remember what “gibbous” means about half the time.

So I went and downloaded Waistcoats & Weaponry, preparing myself for the distinct possibility that I would be completely and utterly lost within moments of beginning the book.

But something really quite remarkable happened. Not only was I not lost, but I absolutely fell in love with W&W. And just a tiny bit, by extension, with its author. But not in a creepy way! More in a “wow I really really want to write like you” way. Which I feel is the highest possible compliment that a writer can pay anyone, so I tend to employ it sparingly.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how exactly I was able to move so smoothly into the dead center of a book series like that. And all I can reckon is that I was able to follow along because the narrative moved forward just as confidently as the heroine herself. It did not take long to become familiar with Sophronia and her friends Dimity, Sidheag, and Soap. Viscount Mersey, when he arrived, quickly became a comfortable presence, and becoming accustomed to the quirky inhabitants of the dirigible-borne finishing school on which the story begins felt effortless.

Part of this, I expect, is due to the fact that Sophronia—the heroine and point of view character—is in the midst of being specifically trained to be an intelligencer, which may now be my absolute favorite word for “spy.” As a consequence, she’s permitted, in-universe, to be very good at reading people and handling information. Sophronia freely shares with the reader everything she knows and learns, and the initial scenes are full of a great deal of humor and wit. On top of being entertaining, those initial scenes take their time, demonstrating all the little useful details the reader needs to know about the main characters (such as Sophronia’s stunning capacity to dissemble, or Sidheag’s stoicism, or Dimity’s tendency to faint at the first sign of blood). The “supernaturals,” “mechanicals,” and “Picklemen” are all introduced in due time, and never before they become necessary to the story.

Add to the above that mentions of adventures from previous books are kept brief and are always couched within the context of what’s happening in the world of the story, and I never found myself feeling lost, rudely exposited at, or otherwise out of place.

So, those are my thoughts on why W&W managed to read so well for me despite being right smack dab in the middle of a series. How about you lot? Have any of you ever accidentally stumbled into the middle of a series and found yourself pleasantly surprised at not being lost? What did the author do that kept you from feeling lost, do you think? Share in the comments! And in the meantime, watch this totally awesome music video made for the Finishing School series because holy crap a book series got a music video how did that happen.