Prudence is the first book in Gail Carriger’s new CUSTARD PROTOCOL series. It’s a spin-off of THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE, her five-book series which is about genteel vampires and werewolves in Victorian London. You don’t need to read PARASOL PROTECTORATE before starting Prudence, but you’ll understand the characters and world a little better if you do.
Those who are familiar with PARASOL PROTECTORATE will know who Prudence is. She’s the daughter of Lady Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural who is able to cancel out other people’s supernatural powers. She has two fathers — alpha werewolf Lord Conal Maccon (her biological father) and the flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama (who adopted her to protect her from the vampires). Prudence has the extremely rare power of being able to not only cancel other people’s supernatural powers, but to temporarily steal them. So, for example, if she touches a werewolf, she temporarily steals the wolf form. I think it was clever of Gail Carriger to give Prudence this ability because she can change into all sorts of supernatural creatures. My guess is that there will be different types of creatures in each CUSTARD PROTOCOL novel, which should help keep things fresh.
Prudence is in her twenties. She has just received an airship from Lord Akeldama and she and some friends who we know from THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE are on their way to India to negotiate a business contract having to do with tea… Or so they think… They had to suddenly leave London without getting final instructions because Prudence’s friend Primrose committed the fashion faux pas of wearing a traveling dress instead of a receiving dress. To avoid a ruined reputation, they were forced to suddenly travel, and thus they missed some important information. When they arrive in India, they discover that the negotiations are for something much more important than tea (as hard as that is to believe, since very few things are more important than tea). To preserve world peace, Prudence and her friends will have to use all their wits, skills, and powers. And a pot of really good jam.
As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews of Gail Carriger’s work, I love her FINISHING SCHOOL series, but never quite warmed up to the earlier PARASOL PROTECTORATE series because the plots are loose and the humor, though funny, comes across as forced and self-conscious. I was hoping that, since CUSTARD PROTOCOL is her most recent work, I’d like it best of all, especially since the audio version is read by Moira Quirk, who did such an amazing job with FINISHING SCHOOL.
Alas, Prudence feels like book six of PARASOL PROTECTORATE. This will be totally fine for Carriger’s legions of fans. They are certain to love the zany plot, the hint of romance, and the focus on fashion, hairstyles, and etiquette. There were many parts I really enjoyed, such as the visit to an airship landing dock, the hilariously bad travel guide, the woman who can turn into a leopard, and a bit of social commentary about imperialism and eurocentrism. However, I found the plot and the romance unconvincing. It’s all just a little too silly for me. I think FINISHING SCHOOL works better because the characters are kids, so they’re more believable when silly, and they don’t try so hard to be witty when they talk.
Moira Quirk does a great job with the narration of the audiobook version (Hachette Audio, about 13 hours), but I still liked her better in FINISHING SCHOOL because I prefer those characters. I think I would have believed in the romance a little more if Quirk had given Prudence’s love interest a more manly voice.