I have been an unabashed fan of Gail Carriger since first cracking open her adult Steampunk novel Soulless, and she is one of the few authors who I will read without question. Though the last two Parasol Protectorate books went a bit off course for me (too much focus pulled onto secondary characters), I have devoured every other Steampunk novel and novella she has published. They even overcame my former aversion to vampire and werewolf characters. So I was excited when the first book in her new series was being published, and even more excited that her second stop on a short book tour would be at a Powell’s Books in Oregon. I waited and waited, checking the website every once in a while to ensure that her appearance wasn’t cancelled or rescheduled, and I drove there on my little old lonesome to meet a favorite author and have her sign my book. Gail Carriger in person is everything you would expect, warm and personable with really cute shoes. And the crowd, as at every Steampunk related event I have attended, was also warm and friendly. It was a great experience and I am so glad I was able to attend (unlike the previous book signing I went too, but that was no fault of Powell’s or the author, and I did get to spend time with a dear friend, so I won’t go into that debacle here). That said, I’ll try not to overtly gush or give spoilers in the following review:
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit Books, New York NY, March 2015, 357 pgs.
Review Copy Source: purchased at Powell’s Books
Prudence is Gail Carriger at her effervescent and (yep, I’m going to pun) buoyant best. This first book in The Custard Protocol series re-introduces a more mature Lady Prudence (Rue) Alessandra Macon to the reader, as she sets off on a tea related mission for her adoptive father, Lord Akeldama (or Dama, as she calls him, which Carriger says she always knew Rue would use as it combines Da and Ma). Along for the ride on the dirigible he gifts her, The Spotted Custard, are grown versions of the Tunstell twins, Primrose and Percy, and Quesnel Lefoux.
Rue, at first, seems not to know her own strengths, as she conjures up the attitudes and physicality of others to act whatever part she feels necessary in a situation. Throughout the novel, she grows in confidence – still stealing or borrowing supernatural form when absolutely necessary, as a metanatural is inclined to, but no longer trying to be anyone but herself. And she is definitely a different personality from her battle-ax mother (who wins every argument, even in Rue’s imaginings) and her two disparate fathers.
But with parents such as hers, and those of her companions, can misadventure be far behind? When sent off on even the most mundane task by the rove vampire, Lord Akeldama, nothing is ever quite as it seems and this group’s jaunt to India is no exception.
Carriger stated in the Q&A at Powell’s that she has used each series to explore different things, and that in The Custard Protocol series she wanted to explore different cultures and supernatural elements. She does this well, while still incorporating the known entities of the vampires and werewolves from her previous series into the storyline.
Another thing Carriger does well is incorporate urchins into her stories. A certain young urchin in the Finishing School series coming foremost to mind. Here, though, we have multiple “decklings” and “sooties” but foremost we have a girl, Spoo, and a boy, Virgil, who are charming in their minor roles and have potential to grow.
This is likely classifiable as a New Adult novel, but with just a bit of canoodling, a lot of flirting and a door left open for possibly more daring romantic entanglements in future books. While there is shape-shifter related nudity (no magic here, werewolves don’t have a spell to shift their clothes), there is no actual nookie as in The Parasol Protectorate series (were it is more known than shown in most cases).
If you enjoy lighthearted adventure, Steampunk with vampires and shapeshifters, a bit of romance or large, floating airships painted like giant ladybugs (ladybirds, in the fully British version), then I recommend this book to you. If you are curious about seeing typically British-centric Steampunk transported to India, I recommend this book. If you have not read Carriger’s other series, I recommend you start with The Parasol Protectorate series, or, if you are younger and an adult series is not yet appropriate for you, The Finishing School series. Both series have characters and events that could be spoiled by reading Prudence first, as events are mentioned and various characters appear in all three series. Though which you read and in what order is, of course, up to you – I personally read the first Finishing School book after the first three Parasol Protectorate books and think that worked out well for me (it made a couple of characters more interesting and me more sympathetic towards them when met as adults).
4.5/5 stars, because of so many typos. I understand that there was a bit of a kerfuffle between British and American English versions, and I am fine with reading British English (though ladybirds would have thrown me for a loop), but there were quite a few words that were obviously typos (from/form, etc) that should have been caught. So minus 1/2 star for getting my typo-spotting hackles raised.