Prudence: Book One of the Custard Protocol – Gail Carriger

Custard Protocol

Prudence is everything I love in a Gail Carriger novel, from the wingtips of its illustrious series title (Custard Protocol! It’s better than Parasol Protectorate!), to the soles of its hobnailed, steampunk boots. The prose is frothy and bubbling with wit and amusing one liners, as I’ve come to appreciate from the author of these fantastic comedies of manners.

The titular Prudence (Rue) is the daughter of three people: a soulless half-Italian woman Lady Alessandra Maccon, her husband the werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon, and their friend the supremely gay and fashionable vampire Lord Akeldama. Prudence is clever, curious and skilled in intelligence gathering (Akeldama runs one of the finest spy rings in the world).

Entering the world of the Parasol Protectorate some seventeen years after the last book about Alessandra, Prudence purloins a suspicious snuffbox, is gifted by her father Lord Akeldama with a state-of-the-art bright dirigible painted in ladybug red and black, and sets forth on a mission of intrigue… to India. As only Carriger could make it, this intrigue is about tea: in Steampunked Britain, there is little more important than the life-giving brew. Certainly not coffee.

And this is the point at which my guilt-free enjoyment of the series stuttered to a bit of a halt. Because it seemed rather… colonial, in how it addressed the actual population of India. Discounting the supernatural set they meet in India, there is barely a named person of native Indian descent in the entire book, which felt to me like an unnecessary marginalisation. And no matter how wonderfully petticoated and resourceful Prudence is, this use of a continent as narrative window dressing and exotification was discomforting.

Which is a pity, because it is an enjoyable book, and I have already reread it twice. As the first in a series, and the denouement of a new, not-entirely-innocent but possible-slightly-naive character, I have hopes for Rue’s development into a more rounded worldview, and the fuller participation of characters of all nationalities. Carriger definitely has written with an eye to equal representation of the genders: “the senior greaser and at least half the firemen and sooties were in fact female.”

You can pick up Prudence and read it without a problem. But you may enjoy reading the Parasol Protectorate series first (my review of Soulless here), and working up from there. There are a good many recurring characters which you will otherwise miss.

K.L gives Prudence 3.5 out of 5 young women floating past on puffy clouds of ulterior motives.

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

“Goodness, that sounds like a disease of the unmentionables.”

“They de-puffed out of the aetherosphere to find India spread below them like a great red and brown apple fritter nestled in a pool of blue sauce. There were sprinkles of green jungle, which, if one continued the comparison, meant the fritter was mouldy.”

 

Like reading? K.L. has published her first novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Be entertained!

Like poetry? K.L. has also published a collection of poems, The Loaded Brush. Find it here. I promise not to make you search for metaphors.

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Soulless – Gail Carriger

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 A steampunk novel. Incurable curmudgeon of a spinster Alessandra Tarrabotti doesn’t just have Italian blood to rend her unpalatable to the London elite, she is also soulless, a walking antithesis to the soul-abundant immortals of society: vampires, werewolves and ghosts. The entire novel feels like a walking pratfall, which was an entertainingly humorous approach, though it makes the reader looking over the narrators’ shoulder feel like they are constantly on the lookout for a hurled custard tart.

When unfamiliar vampires begin appearing, starved and weak, in London, ascerbic Miss Tarrabotti unwillingly joins forces with brusque, savage werewolf Lord Maccon to track down the source…blah, blah, blah. Dear reader, I am too tired to even bother finishing that formulaic description; you can do it for yourself, and you probably won’t guess wrong. Insert tab A into slot B and pull the lever for a formulaic romance inserted into the story as uncomfortably as a hand into a three-fingered glove. It’s so tiresomely familiar. Tempestuoustly argumentative man and woman fall for each other as passionately as they fight each other. A romantic trope which is incredibly annoying. Just consider someone who you cannot stand, who puts your teeth on edge, who you are forced to associate with in a professional manner. You possibly work with someone like that, and I would suggest practically never do such feelings transform into a mild romantic fondness, let alone a Rome and Julietesque, panting passion.

So forgive me if I skip over that aspect of the storyline, and bid you examine the social fabric of Carriger’s universe.

Because that is a brocade worth going weak at the knees over. Vampires and werewolves have been a part of the fabric of Great Britain since their open acceptance in the Dark Ages; vampire congregate in hives, with a queen in each the only vampire able to even attempt to transform humans, whilst in the werewolf packs, only an Alpha able to assume the ‘Anubis form’ is able to bite and potentially convert a human. This rather neatly explains why an immortal population remains so small; the ability to survive the transformation is dependant upon a human possessing an excess of soul, which is not known until they die whilst being literally torn apart by the immortal attempting the transformation.

Due to their long presence in society, all three classes of supernatural have been absorbed into the woodwork of bureaucracy, rather more interesting than the common ‘outsider, hiding in the ignorant masses’ approach to supernaturals in fiction. When these supernatural classes are threatened, members going missing, the Empire shudders upon its foundations. Werewolves command the armies; Vampires enforce fashion and foreign policy. Diverse plots ensue…

In summary, I heartily recommend Soulless for the world it constructs, and the personalities involved, but did not enjoy the apparently inevitable romancing. 

Still, it sets the series up nicely for the next book to come…

K.L gives Soulless 3 out of 5 trifle-covered vampire dandies.

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

Ugh. Brusque Alpha werewolf Lord Maccon. Why does no one ever fall for the sensible, capable, second-in-charge? Are we all still limited by the fairytale idea that we must become princesses by making ourselves limpets to a man more powerful?

 

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger

Etiquette and Espionage

A delightful lark. Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Angelina Temminnick has driven her mother to the end of her manicured wits.

After an unfortunate incident involveing a sabotaged dumbwaiter, a plate of trifle, Mrs. Barnaclegoose’s head, and of course, Sophronia as Exibit A, The Condemned, she is packed off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

It is not the fate worse than death that Sophronia expects. Firstly, the Academy is a vast dirigible which floats its way across the moors of Dartmouth, rather than being sensibly anchored to the ground, and secondly, its students learn not merely the arts of flirtation, dance and household management, but also espionage and assassination. Their shadowy agents have been watching Sophronia for some time, and her predilection for investigation and chaos have resulted in her becoming covertly recruited to join the academy.

The normal pace of lessons aboard the flying academy is somewhat unhinged when Sophronia arrives, accompanied by resident mean-girl, the beautiful Monique de Pelouse. Partnering up with Dimity, who brother Pillover is in training to become an evil genius, Sophronia must discover what Monique is hiding from the Academy, before her actions ensure its destruction by dastardly Picklemen, who will stop at nothing to obtain The Prototype.

Set in a Steampunk 1800’s England, Etiquette & Espionage is fun, well-paced, with interesting and lively characters. The references to ladylike behaviour and dress seem to be refreshingly tongue-in-cheek, and Sophronia’s chracter is intelligent, curious, and shows no qualms about breaking stuffy rules to achieve her goals.

I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out.

K.L gives Etiquette & Espionage 3.5 out of 5 werewolves in top-hats.