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.

Jane and the Damned – Janet Mullany

janeandthedamned

The only thing sharper than her wit… Is her teeth!

No, really. It says so, on the cover.

In this reimagining of the young Jane Austen’s life, vampirekind enjoy lives of decadence and privilege at the height of English society. Jane is a young woman living in a small town, whose first novel (of two sisters, who always get along, and witty banter) has just received yet another rejection notice. At a social gathering, she meets – and is turned by – a cad of a vampire. Traveling to Bath with her family to be cured of the disease, her transformation back to wilting violet is halted by the invasion of the French.

Less Pride and Prejudice and more of a generic everygirl story staged in Georgian England, Jane and the Damned settles comfortably into the category of “popcorn reading,” being lazily entertaining, moderately well-paced, and quite predictable.

K.L. Gives Jane and the Damned 2.5 out of 5 French flags flying over London.

 

Like reading? Like poetry? K.L. has recently published a collection of poems, along with a preview of her upcoming novel, The Fall of Peter Pan. Find it here.

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?

 

A Job from Hell

A job from hell

A Job From Hell – Jayde Scott

 

This book is so awful (well, it is free) that I deleted it from my reader halfway through, then went back, re-downloaded and skim-read it just so that I could be scathing about it later, and warn you, dear reader.

 

That might sound cruel, but I have a number of objective criticisms of the story.

 

A self-described fat girl “with chubby arms and stumpy legs,” Amber takes on a job as housekeeper in a remote mansion in Scotland, to earn money for college the following year. She has been dumped by her boyfriend, Cameron, for putting on a few pounds, and is still mooning over him, determined that he simply needs a break, that their relationship will rekindle, and he will finally introduce her to his parents.

Having established her unflattering physical characteristics early on, the author then proceeds to tell the readers at every opportunity about her attractiveness, an irksome and repetitive inconsistency. “The blue skinny jeans looked really good on me, making my legs seem so much longer,”…. “After slipping into a black, long-sleeved top that emphasized my narrow waist and a pair of blue skinny jeans…”

 

The protagonist, Aidan, Amber’s erstwhile employer, is a sizzlingly hot half-millenia-old vampire, who refuses to drink human blood, or harm humans, whilst fighting his battles against the forces of darkness. Anne Rice’s Lestat was the first “vegetarian” vampire, and possibly should have stayed the only one; if not, then the Cullens should have been the last such group featured. It is unoriginal these days, to a stunning degree, made more so by Aidan’s special ability; he can control peoples’ thoughts, but has difficulty influencing or hearing Amber’s own; the most he can do is send her to sleep. Someone tell Stephanie Meyer that Edward has been wandering across novels…

That aside, he is the stereotypical romantic protagonist: filthily rich, good-looking, domineering, perpetually eighteen and emotionally scarred; Aidan has not been romantically involved since his last love interest betrayed him. This gives Amber a number of incentives to “win” him, and the act of breaking down his emotional shields immediately qualifies her to be the recipient of his affluence. Aidan is aware when they first meet that he and Amber are destined to be soul-mates, a fact which somehow vindicates his forcing her to fall asleep after a night out with him by using his vampire mental-judo, and then kissing her while she is unconscious, unable to provide or withhold consent.

That is known by adults as “date rape,” but she is ok with it (and so, apparently, is he); Amber immediately starts puzzling over her feelings for Aidan versus her ex, Cameron. She spends pages of dreary monologue, both internal and external (with her new BFF Cass), consistently failing the Bechdel Test, a pattern which is duplicated in most girl on girl conversations throughout the book.

 

Amber is consistently demonstrated to be both spineless and stupid. She lets herself be bullied by her brother into robbing a shack in the woods (stealing some magical gemstones which brings her to the attention of the supernatural community), and allows herself to be manhandled and sexually harassed by Kieran, Aidan’s brother without a single vocalised objection.

Her friends and associates in the book consist largely of a troupe of Aidan’s vampire and demonic buddies, who are quite happy to imprison her inside the house with no means of external contact, for her own safety. This illegal imprisonment at the hands of Kieran is described, “Why couldn’t Cameron pay me this much attention? If only he knew, surely he’d come to his senses. He’d know what a huge mistake he made by dumping me and he’d spend the rest of his life making it up to me because we belonged together…”

This is after Kieran physically bars her from leaving the house, stops her from using a phone, threatens to tie her up or handcuff her to the bed, flirts consistently (and unwelcomely), and then starts suggesting a sexual romp, stroking her cheek and telling her that his brother, Aidan, the love interest, doesn’t need to know. And Kieran is a Good Guy.

Her objections to curtailment of personal liberties are weak, as though she is a puppet whose existence is defined by those who control her; the possibility of leaving the Stockholmian manse and fleeing back to reality in London is considered objectionable.

Adrian’s (an occasional first-person narrator; how else would we get our exposition?) inner dialogue confirms this. Amber is his possession – “she was mine”, “my mate” etc; and as a result, imprisoning her and sexually touching her against her will is ok, because she’s bound to get over it one day.

 

If I met Amber in reality, the main descriptive term used would be “dangerously obsessive bunny boiler.” After her second kiss (because being kissed while semiconscious by an employer is what most people consider a positive), Amber reflects, “I had let him kiss me again. Seduced by the rich kid, only to be pushed away when he had enough of me. Apparently taking care of business in the middle of the night was more important than finding out whether the attraction between us was real.”

 

My objections could go on for pages. There were no redeeming qualities to this book.

 

K.L gives A Job from Hell 0 out of 5 juvenile wish-fulfilment fantasies.

 

 

 

 

SPOILER ALERT! DANGEROUS WORDS AHEAD!

 

Of course she gets turned into a vampire, in a blame-absolving, “It was that or you’d die!” turn of events. And some conveniently-timed magical spell allows them to walk in daylight and not require blood to survive.

Now all they need to do is sparkle.