The Custard Protocol series, Book 2
Review of The Custard Protocol, Book 1 here.
Heat Factor: a warm summer breeze
Character Chemistry: Just tell her you love her!
Plot: runs one thing to the next
Overall: a delightful romp
Beginning immediately after Prudence, once the Spotted Custard has returned to London, Imprudence tells the continuing adventures of the Spotted Custard’s crew. Rue is in disgrace with the Queen after her escapades in India, and she’s gained her majority, so she’s lost all of the privileges of being a vampire’s legal ward. Interestingly, Rue doesn’t have any idea what this means and doesn’t really concern herself about this information, which seems to me to indicate 1) shockingly poor parenting and 2) a complete disregard for the reality of the world she lives in.
Furthermore, Quesnel, who accepted Rue’s offer of a liaison at the end of Prudence, disappeared to Egypt without a word and then, too, returned to London without a word, so what’s a young Lady to think?
Rue’s parents (all three!) have also been hiding from her that her birth father, Lord Maccon, is going through Alpha’s curse, which is when the Alpha werewolf goes crazy with age and gets killed by the new Alpha. Again, Rue has no idea that 1) this is a thing or 2) her parents have already planned for this and have a succession plan in place so her father doesn’t have to die (except naturally because he has to be mortal so he’s not an insane werewolf all the time). Once Rue discovers this, she makes several logical leaps until she arrives at the same plan her parents have spent years preparing for, which is to move both parents to Egypt, where the God-Breaker Plague will keep Lord Maccon mortal as long as he stays within its geographic boundaries.
Thus the adventure begins!
Somewhat abruptly, after a couple of surprise attacks on the Spotted Custard, the motley crew, along with Rue’s Maccon parents, floats off to Egypt. At first we think the adventures will be associated with parent transport, but no! It seems the attacks on the Spotted Custard in London were attempts to capture Tasherit, the resident werelioness (and presumably Prim’s love interest in Competence, but we’ll get to that), who was outed by ship navigator Professor Percy Tunstell, the Western European supernatural set having no notion of the existence of werelions. To rescue the remaining werelions of Tasherit’s pride, the Custard floats its way up the Nile for continuing dirigible adventures. But perhaps the attackers pursuing the Custard aren’t after Tasherit at all! I’ll never tell. Sadly, there are no weremonkeys in this story, but there are werelionesses and a camouflaged dirigible, so you won’t be let down.
Story aside, if Rue and Quesnel didn’t get it together in this book, and I had to go through several more books to get satisfaction, I was going to be hugely let down. I am not into that Stephanie Plum nonsense. Fortunately for us all, things proceeded apace, beginning at (nearly) the beginning.
Given that she is constantly getting caught in dangerous situations (thanks, Mother and Paw and Dama), quite a bit of the romantic relationship between Rue and Quesnel is developed by Quesnel’s concern about Rue’s welfare. This jives with the prior book, so the development is a long time coming.
“Rue, what the hell?”
Quesnel was calling her by her real name. He must be annoyed.
“We were attacked. I thought it prudent to float off before it could happen a third time.”
Quesnel’s tone altered. “Are you injured? Is anyone hurt? How’s the ship? I’m coming up.”
“No, you most certainly are not! We have only a few minutes before first puff and I want you in the boiler room. Everyone is perfectly fine. Tasherit’s been training them, remember? There may be a sunflower that needs to be put out of its misery, though.”
“She hasn’t been training you.”
How much more can you fail to read that this guy is totally into you? In fact, Rue knows she’s got Quesnel’s attention, she just thinks he’s a terrible flirt who will move on the minute he sees something more interesting and doesn’t want her heart broken. Quesnel did mysteriously disappear to Egypt and then just as mysteriously reappeared, so he does get some relationship communication demerits for that, but I cannot recall another instance that he was presented as not sincerely interested in Rue, so why is she so certain he’s not serious about her?
As she attempts to protect her own heart, she stomps really hard on Quesnel’s again and again.
As they embark on their liaison:
“I’m what?’”Rue was suddenly interested in crumbling her toast.
“Innocent. You’re bold and brash and very attractive, so I sometimes forget how innocent you are. I do not want to hurt you cherie.”
This was getting too earnest for Rue. “No danger there. I assure you, my heart is not available.”
Was that disappointment she saw flicker in his eyes?
After they’ve embarked on their liaison but before they’ve slept together:
“How do I trust any offer as genuine? I’m defined by my supernatural relationships.”
“And me, where do I fit in?”
“It’s not like you want to marry me. Oh, don’t look so upset. I’m not fishing for an address.”
Quesnel lowered his voice. “I would, you know.”
Rue kissed his cheek absentmindedly. “Chivalrous, darling, but we both know you don’t really mean it.”
So I don’t have a ton of experience in this area, but I do believe that if a man talks marriage when he didn’t actually need to, you might want to take that seriously. But Quesnel never admits to anything! Usually I do not care for romantic conflicts based on non-communication, but given the romance is not driving the plot, I found this emotional entanglement endearing rather than obnoxious. Honestly, how many times can you be told “I’m not interested in anything long term” by your romantic interest before you give up on communicating how you really feel? One sympathizes with Quesnel, truly.
Carriger does employ some stereotyping that made me pause. It is unclear if this is intentional because the officers of the Custard are part of the community of London supernatural aristocracy and Victorians tended to think of themselves as the center of the cultured world or if the stereotyping is just fostering unnecessary suppositions that have carried through to the modern age.
Spoo, head deckling, was quite as bloodthirsty as any boy of her age was wont to be. Amusing when compared to her best friend, Virgil, who was as prissy as any girl of his age.
This doesn’t particularly belong in the context of Victorian supremacy, hence my confusion about unwarranted stereotypes vs. literary device. Although certainly in the period there would be preconceived notions about gender roles, this particular quotation is a prime example of a stereotype that does not perform an actual function of supporting the overall impression the author is trying to create.
Nevertheless, I can’t get enough of this quirky writing, and the romance is enough to get my jaded, “Well, that was pretty good, I guess,” stomach fluttering.
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