Prudence: A new generation of zany adventures

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsPrudence by Gail Carriger fantasy book reviewsPrudence by Gail Carriger

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.

Publication Date: March 17, 2015. Introducing the Custard Protocol series, in which Alexia Maccon’s daughter Prudence travels to India on behalf of Queen, country…and the perfect pot of tea. When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (“Rue” to her friends) is bequeathed an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female under similar circumstances would do — she christens it the Spotted Custard and floats off to India. Soon, she stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier’s wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis (and an embarrassing lack of bloomers), Rue must rely on her good breeding — and her metanatural abilities — to get to the bottom of it all…

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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10 comments

  1. I was so happy to see that this book was out! I was hoping it would be more like the FINISHING SCHOOL books you’ve reviewed too. Maybe I’ll just to read all of those.

  2. Samanda /

    Been reading this site for some time and I’ve long wondered how much Kat’s reviews are influenced by the quality of the narrators of the audio-books. I don’t have long commutes, nor the patience to sit in idleness while I listen to something, so I’ve never tried audio-books.

    This comment really caught my attention: “I think I would have believed in the romance a little more if Quirk had given Prudence’s love interest a more manly voice.”

    I guess what I’m really asking is how can you review a book when you haven’t actually read it to yourself? The whole process of engaging with the author’s imagination has to be different when its filtered through someone else’s interpretation. I would think that what you’re reviewing in such cases is the narrator’s interpretation of the author’s work.

  3. Samanda /

    Looking back, I suspect that my comment above sounds more confrontational than I intended it to be. I’m genuinely curious about the difference it makes/would make to one’s interpreation of and reaction to a book narrated by someone else instead of read to oneself.

    This was most recently prompted by reading Peter Mendelsund’s “What we see when we read.”

    I suspect I need to buy an audio version of something I’m familiar with and see what difference it makes to me.

    • What I found most interesting about the Mendelsund book was his observation that most of us *don’t* see when we read (the whole “what does Anna Karenina look like?” thing)… we process the written word in a way that seems more like hearing. I was noticing this today while I was re-reading THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. In the story Ylla I was hearing the description of a house with crystal columns and a dead blue sea, and then a nanosecond(ish) later I was *seeing* those things.

      If you choose to try out an audio book, I hope you’ll comment here about about it. I’m curious to know what your experience is.

  4. Hi Samanda, thanks for the comment and question. Audiobooks are becoming a popular format for reading because people are so busy these days. I teach college full time and have five kids and many other duties, including managing this site, which is why I read mostly by audio. I assure you that I’m not sitting in idleness, which I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply :). Audiobooks allow me to read while doing other tasks like chores, driving, and even grocery shopping. You should try one!

    I also wouldn’t say that I haven’t read a book I’ve listened to. If you listened to someone read DUNE to you, and then someone asked you if you had ever read DUNE, would you say you hadn’t read it? The words and information got into your brain and you paid attention to them and understood them, so why does it matter what route the words took to get there?

    Anyway, about the narrator: Yes, a narrator can influence your perception of a book, but if you read it yourself, how do you know that YOU are reading it the way the author intended? Most professional narrators are professional actors and are taught how to interpret the work the way the author intended. Rarely I suspect that the narrator didn’t do this quite right, and I always mention that in my review. I also want to make sure readers of my reviews know I’m listening to an audio version, so I always say so and the post is tagged “audio.”

    In this case, it would be interesting to ask Gail Carriger about it (and maybe I will), but it is likely that the character IS how she intended it and I just didn’t think it was as manly as I would have preferred. If I had read the book myself, I could have given him a more masculine voice, but then I would be interpreting it, too. So, either way, whether you read it or the narrator reads it, there is still interpretation. We don’t know which way the author envisions it.

    I hope you WILL try an audiobook and let me know what you think. May I suggest Gail Carriger’s FINISHING SCHOOL series, or Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES or Larry Correia’s MONSTER HUNTER or GRIMNOIR books? The audio on these is exceptional.

  5. I think Samanda and Kat both make excellent points on listening to audiobooks, and I would just like to add that there are many instances in which a person might need to rely on an audible format rather than visual. For example, people who have difficulty seeing or who have trouble with the printed word (such as severe dyslexia) can still experience a book by listening to it, and in my eyes, that counts as reading it. :)

  6. susan emans /

    I was very disappointed in Prudence. I love the Finishing School series and enjoyed the Parasol Protectorate, but Prudence seemed to have a good story buried deeply in too many florid descriptions. I skimmed quite a bit before the halfway point when it felt like the story finally started to matter.

    • I think we agree on that Susan. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was disappointed… But I can’t wait for the next FINISHING SCHOOL book.

  7. Samanda /

    Getting back to this after several weeks…

    @Jana: I’m very much aware that there are people who can’t read normal print for one reason or another. I’m at the stage myself where without my reading glasses I have to bump my kindle’s font size up to the max in order to read anything.

    I tried the audio thing and for me it just doesn’t work. I looked at the price of discs for the Carriger books and choked–way too much of my book budget for an experiment. So I went to the Audible site and tried listening to some of the samples.

    If I didn’t sit there with my eyes closed listening, I found I got focused on something else and the audio faded out. As well, some of the narrators had what I found to be annoying speech habits. Others read v e r y s l o w l y, so that I wanted to take the book away from the narrator and read it myself at my own pace.

    Finally, I tried to listen to an audio version of The Little Prince and found it strange. Saint-Exupéry’s naive illustrations are such an important part of the book that it seemed incomplete without them. The narrator talks about his first childish drawing of a snake which had swallowed an elephant and how all the grown-ups he showed it to thought it was a picture of a hat. Now one could probably visualise what the picture looks like, but the joke gets a bit lost if you haven’t already seen the drawing before you read the adults’ comment.

    So as long as my eyes hold out and I can get glasses that will allow me to read print, I expect I shall keep reading that way. Perhaps when/if I get to a point where I can’t read print at any size anymore, there will be fewer distractions and I’ll be better able to focus on the narration of audio books.

    • Hi Samanda,

      I agree that audio isn’t for everyone, but here are a few suggestions for the issues you mentioned. (For other readers who want to try audio.)

      I have an Audible membership, so with their sales and deals, I figure I pay on average $6 per book (I calculated this). I also use my libraries a lot. I can download audiobooks for free there. The Carriger books are at my library.

      I agree that the readers are too slow. For that reason, I double the playback speed with the Audible app or the app I use on my phone for MP3 files (Smart Audiobook Player). When I increase the playback speed, it does not change pitch. It just makes it sound like they’re reading faster. I wouldn’t use an app that doesn’t have that feature. It’s the most important one for me. Second is bookmarking. This isn’t to keep my place (the apps automatically do that for you) but to make notes about things I want to say in my reviews.

      I don’t listen to many books that are illustrated, but on the rare times that I have done that, I looked up the illustrations online. Out of the hundreds of audiobooks I’ve read, only a few were illustrated. Like you, I’d normally choose print for illustrated books.

      I’ve heard many people say they can’t focus on audiobooks. I wonder if this is a personality thing. I’m introverted, so I tend to focus more on what’s in my head than what’s outside of me. My husband would say that I am not the most visually observant person. I wonder if that has something to do with ability to focus on audio.

      Anyway, thanks for telling us about your audio experience!

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