The Custard Protocol, Book 1
Heat Factor: Butterflies – It’s the hint of something there
Character Chemistry: Solid, but not primary to the story
Plot: Bonkers but well paced
Overall: Absolutely delightful
The third book in this series popped up as a new acquisition in my digital library, and I jokingly suggested to Ingrid that she read it, as she had been attempting to branch out. The synopsis of the book was slightly outrageous, so it naturally wormed its way into my brain and stuck there. I checked out the audiobook for this first book in the series, Prudence, and true love was born.
This series is centered on the daughter of protagonists of a prior series, so there’s a great deal of overlap, and Carriger does not explain many of the terms that are frequently used in the supernatural, steampunk, Victorian setting. I wondered if this was intentional, as if the reader is meant to be a little in the dark (because immersion) or if it had all been explained earlier in time. As it happens, in The Parasol Protectorate series, Carriger does explain much of the steampunk/supernatural verbiage (except claviger for some reason), but one can infer the meanings without too much difficulty, so I wouldn’t say you must read the prior series first. Indeed, not doing so would make some of the character connections slightly more mysterious.
Prudence is a story in and of itself, but it is also the first half a love story rather than the whole love story. Anticipate reading both Prudence and Imprudence for the whole story. It goes to follow, then, that this book is smut adjacent rather than true smut, but the hints were so much more satisfying than some of the steamier stories I’ve been reading that my primary concern was that the love story might not resolve in book 2.
Prudence is the metanatural daughter of a werewolf and a preternatural, Lord and Lady Maccon (who has no soul and neutralizes supernatural powers), which means she can temporarily take supernatural powers and causes supernaturals to become mortal while she does. For some reason I am not entirely clear on because I have not yet read that far, but possibly because when she was a baby all the vampires in England wanted to kill her, Rue was also adopted and raised by an extremely flamboyant gay vampire, Lord Akeldama, thereby neutralizing the vampire threat. Rue therefore has two fathers and an impossible mother.
Gifted with a dirigible by her vampire father, Prudence cobbles together a crew (primarily recommended to her by her father), paints her dirigible red with black spots, names it The Spotted Custard, and sets off for India because of something to do with tea. After a stop with more adventures than you would think could occur during such a brief interval at the fictitious Maltese Tower dirigible outpost, the Spotted Custard makes its way to India for some further adventures with Scottish werewolves, Indian vampires, a werelion and weremonkeys.
The series is ongoing, so it could be more than four books, but at the moment the four primary characters are Rue (Prudence), her best friend Primrose, Primrose’s twin brother Percy, and Quesnel Lefoux, who is related to the other three by all their parents’ relationships as described in the Parasol Protectorate series. There are also many other characters that flit in and out of the story as it develops, which could make for too many moving parts but doesn’t. The story takes delight in its own absurdity, which makes it utterly a true pleasure to read. In an attempt to illustrate why I find this book so marvelous, I feel I must share the following nuggets because I am not as adept at describing what delights me as I wish I could be:
“Excuse me, my lord, but you must know, Queen Mums simply doesn’t approve of you. I think it’s your fashion choices.”
Dama did not look offended. “My dear, I cannot think of a better reason to dislike a person! I must say, for my part, I strenuously object to her hats.”
Nothing irritated Rue more than overprotectiveness. Except possibly flat champagne.
Of course, it was startling. It’s simply not the thing one expects of a teahouse, even when travelling abroad, even miles up in an airship docking tower. Especially not miles up in an airship docking tower. But there was most assuredly a lioness among them. She came in through the front door, setting the bells tinkling like any ordinary patron, and then setting everyone screaming. Rue thought this a little much; after all, if a lioness wanted tea, why not give it to her?
Do cats, Rue wondered, as a rule object to teahouses? If so, then there is something very much to be said in favor of dogs.
“Rakshasas are reviled in India. Their position as tax collectors is an attempt by the crown to integrate them in a more progressive and mundane manner.”
Rue said, “Oh, how logical. Because we all know ordaining someone as a tax collector is the surest way to get them accepted by society.”
Prim said philosophically, “That’s the government for you.”
So Prudence is a romp, well paced, chock full of eclectic characters, and not at all shocking. While listening, I wondered that my library had categorized this book as romance at all, because it wasn’t even like those delightfully tame 200 page books I read in my early teens. The thing is, there’s Romance and there’s romance, and so much in the Romance genre is just, you know, fine. And would you please stop having sex and have a conversation? This story, being only romance adjacent and also being really only the first half of the love story, tantalizes and makes one wonder, which in the end is far more romantic than many a book I have read in the past three years. At first, Quesnel and Rue’s seemed like any other relationship with about as much chance of being love interests as anybody else’s. And then, after Rue got lost chasing after the lioness who stole her parasol:
As Rue put her foot on the main deck a large blonde bullet hit her from the side and twirled her around so that her back was pressed flush against the railing.
Quesnel grabbed her by the shoulders and actually began to shake her. “Don’t do that!”
“Mr. Lefoux, unhand me!” objected Rue, whacking at him with Sand and Shadows on a Sapphire Sea and greatly tempted to use the parasol. Such impudence.
The gentleman in question seemed to have temporarily lost hold of his senses.
He pulled her in and wrapped his arms about her in a rather nice hug which Rue tried to imagine was like that of one of her many uncles but which was neither scruffy nor fruity-smelling, and gave her heart a little boost in a way the uncles never had.
And so it goes. When first introduced, there was really no meaningful indication that Rue and Quesnel are going to be an item, but at this point, we are informed that there’s something else going on between them, at least on Quesnel’s side. We’re pretty sure Quesnel is in love with Rue, but is it 100%? Is Rue also entertaining feelings for Quesnel, or is she just having fun? Regularly Quesnel makes a romantic overture or comment and is not taken seriously by Rue. She, apparently (but again, we’re not 100% sure yet) coming from a defensive position because she believes Quesnel to be a hardened flirt, brushes off his overtures and effectively tells him she’s not taking him seriously. After which Carriger gives us little hints that Quesnel might have been putting himself out there and is feeling rejected by Rue because how could he possibly know she returns his feelings if she never outwardly takes him seriously? In fact, she propositions him so she can be educated on the finer points of physical relationships, but also says that there will be nothing further even though she is Lady Prudence Akeldama and not a strumpet.
Things happen, Quesnel behaves at turns slightly jealously or slightly protectively (more illustrative of his feelings than off-putting), Rue takes the Spotted Custard into one last spot of trouble. Actually, Rue runs head first into the trouble as a werelioness and Quesnel brings the dirigible for backup in one of those spurts of worried protectiveness, but details. Quesnel accepts Rue’s proposition… And then it’s on to Imprudence. And so we carry on, and if this doesn’t get resolved in Imprudence I cannot answer for my review.
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