Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Review: Prudence by Gail Carriger

 Prudence by Gail Carriger

On Saturday I had the chance to go to a signing by Gail Carriger at Murder by the Book in Houston.  Gail is one of my favorite authors, not only of steampunk but in general.  I've been hugely pleased with her most recent books in the Finishing School series.

The signing was delightful, with Gail being her amazing, charming, and stylish self.  It was the second signing of her I attended so I got all the Finishing School books signed as well as Prudence.

And then I got to actually read this book.  Prudence is the first book in a new series called "The Custard Protocol."  Prudence is the daughter of the Alexia Maccon, the protagonist of the Parasol Protectorate series so this is a "Next Generation" type series.

As such it spends a lot of time introducing the reader to the cast of characters and setting up the premise.  Prudence ("Rue") is given a state-of-the-art airship by her adoptive father Lord Akeldama and sent on a mission to India to secure rights to a special breed of tea.   She assembles a crew and heads off, fairly unprepared for the complicated political climate she's entering.

Gail said in the signing that this series is intended to be an ensemble cast, and she's done a good job giving us four interesting main characters.  Rue and Primrose are best friends from childhood, Rue being the impetuous, adventurous one, and Primrose being more proper and fashionable.  Quesnel Lefoux is the romantic interest for Rue, a cocky French engineer.  Percy is Primrose's twin brother, an easily distracted intellectual snob.  They're well suited for adventures and comedy of manners.  I wish they had slightly more diverse backgrounds, though, as they are all privileged, upper class young adults raised by supernatural parents.

The actual plot of this book is a little thin and feels squeezed into the second half of the book.  There's not all that much that actually takes place in India and very little of that takes place in Indian society.  Pretty much all of the interactions Rue and friends have are with British citizens or native supernatural species.  So it's a book that travels to India that has pretty much no Indian people in it.  The native supernaturals are Indian, but don't really get much in the way of personality or development.

This series is meant to be all about travel through the British empire, but I'm not that comfortable with how it engages with British Imperialism.  It comes down decidedly on the side of imperialism with the justification that England is better than other countries, essentially.  While there is an attempt to show how imperialism leads to problems with native populations the solution to that problem is to strengthen the Empire and forge new treaties between Britain and the natives, essentially to impose British law more forcefully on India.  Frankly all of this earns this book a massive side-eye from me, especially with the total lack of Indian characters.

This is the only photo I took Saturday, of my tentacle nails.
I gave Gail a sheet of them as well.
  If you need some, email me!
Furthermore this book feels very similar to the Parasol Protectorate.  I was looking forward to seeing this universe 20 years later and looking forward to new technology, advancements, etc, but really I can't think of any that were showcased.  The Finishing School books felt like they took place in a distinct social, technological, and aesthetic environment from the Parasol Protectorate, but this feels very same-y.

So ultimately I have to count myself disappointed.  I had really high hopes for this book and it didn't live up to them.  I feel like this is the weakest book Gail has released, and she seems to be really struggling with this new series.   On the bright side I enjoyed the characters and the budding romance, so I won't be abandoning the series or anything.

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