Series: THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL SERIES
Plot Type: Steampunk Romance
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—2; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
Book 3 (2018)
NOVEL 2: Imprudence
Rue has family problems as well. Her vampire father is angry, her werewolf father is crazy, and her obstreperous mother is both. Worst of all, Rue's beginning to suspect what they really are... is frightened.
As the story begins, Rue and her crew have been back in England for only two weeks following their adventures in India, during which Rue dabbled in some unsanctioned diplomacy. The Queen is furious that Rue established a concordance with a group of were-monkeys all on her own—an agreement that keeps them forever out of government hands and safe from being hunted or enslaved...or taxed. The result of the Queen's anger is that she strips Rue of her permission to kill rogue supernaturals (aka sundowner status) as well as "all other legal protections and rights previously granted unto you."
Rue had no idea that she was under some type of special protection, and, unfortunately, she doesn't ask anyone what the consequences of the Queen's actions might mean to her personal safety. A further complication is that Rue has now turned twenty-one, which means that legally she is considered to be an adult. At first, Rue views her adult status as a gift of freedom, but she soon discovers that it also brings heartbreak and danger. Luckily, Rue's vampire father, Dama, has given her a ballistic birthday gift for her ship—a large shiny rapid-fire gun (a Gatling gun) because, "as he said, she was all grown up and a fully fledged independent now, and knowing her family propensities, she'd need a ruddy big gun." As the plot plays out, that gun will be put to frequent use.
Before Rue can deal with her own life, she has to help out her parents. Her father Conall, head of the local werewolf pack, is succumbing to the Alpha's Curse, which is causing him to show signs of senility and to erupt into erratic violence. Because Conall serves as the center focus of his pack, his loss of mental acuity is causing the pack to fall apart. The only solution is to transport Lord and Lady Maccon to Egypt, where the God-Breaker Plague will keep Conall in human form and the couple can live out their remaining years in relative peace.
Meanwhile, Prim has become engaged for the second or third time, not because she has fallen in love, but because she believes that it is her duty to marry and raise a family. When Sekhmet continues to pay her close—VERY close—attention, Prim gets all flustered because she doesn't understand how she can be attracted to another female.
If you are a PARASOL PROTECTORATE (PP) fan, you will probably enjoy this book because it has the same type of nonsensical characters, silly humor, and outlandish plot progression. I do recommend that you read the PP books first, because you need to know all of the details of Rue's childhood to understand the complex relationship she has with Dama and with Lord and Lady Conall. You also need to understand Carriger's definition of "soulless" as it relates to Rue and to Lady Conall.
> Lady Prudence (Rue) Alessandra Maccon Akeldama, biological daughter of Alexia Tarabotti Maccon (soulless metanatural) and Lord Conall Maccon (head of the London Werewolf Pack) and adopted daughter of Lord Akeldama (aka Dama), wealthy vampire Rove. To understand the relationship among Rue and her three parents, you will need to read book four of the PP series, Heartless. Rue has a metanatural ability to "steal" the abilities of any preternatural she touches skin to skin, but only at night and only as long as she remains in relatively close proximity to her "victim." For example, she can steal a werewolf's furry form along with its size, strength, and enhanced senses. As long as Rue maintains the supernatural victim's form, he or she remains in a vulnerable, mortal human state. Thus, you can imagine how unpopular her particular talent is in the preternatural community. The vampires call her soul-stealer, and the werewolves call the flayer.
> The Honorable Miss Primrose (Prim) Tunstell, daughter of Ivy Tunstell, Alexia's best friend in the PP series. In PP, Ivy was renowned for her colorful, over-the-top wardrobe, particularly her outrageous hats. Ivy became a vampire queen and a baroness late in the PP series, but her twins (Prim and Percival) are human. Prim has inherited her mother's fashionista qualities, but doesn't go quite as far overboard, except for her hats.
> Professor Percival Tunstell, Prim's scholarly twin brother, a good-looking young man who spends all his time in his dusty, cluttered research library and rarely lifts his head from his books.
> Quesnel Lefoux, human son of Madame Lefoux (from PP), now ward of Countess Nadasdy, vampire queen of the Woolsey Hive. He has been Rue's nemesis since childhood and is now a handsome playboy. Rue is attracted to him (and he to her) but she continues to regard him as a frenemy who cannot be fully trusted. Quesnel has always been one of the few males Rue had ever met whom she could not manage, and that always keeps her off balance when she is in his flirtatious presence. "As a result, he was prone to either making her head spin with banter, or overwhelming her with the desire to dump tea on his head, sometimes both at the same time.Click HERE to read deleted scenes from CUSTARD PROTOCOL (CP). Click HERE to go to the CP page on Carriger's web site, which includes links to more information about the series.
NOVEL 1: Prudence
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.
MY SUMMARY AND REVIEW:
As the series opens, Dama has a task for Rue. He wants her to float away to India in a dirigible to set up his new tea industry. In this alternate Britain, the East India Company is completely controlled by the vampire hives, but Dama—as an independent rove (lone) vampire—wants in on the huge profits of the tea trade. He has found a delicious new tea plant, and he needs Rue to go on a covert journey to set up his fledgling operation. To sweeten the deal, Dama gifts Rue with a brand-new state-of-the-art dirigible, which she asks him to paint red with black spots (like a lady bug). Then, she names the airship the Spotted Custard (because she loves custard and the ship has spots). To head her crew, she hires her three friends: Prim, to keep everything organized; Percival, to navigate and to research Indian history, geography, and culture; and Quesnel to serve as the chief engineer.
The first part of the book follows the intrepid quartet on their floating journey from London to Bombay. Along the way, Rue meets up with three very different creatures: a huge lioness who steals her parasol, a beautiful woman who gives her a message that Rue doesn't understand, and another woman who gives her a book sent to her by Dama. None of these meetings or messages make any sense at the time, but eventually all becomes clear. Carriger has obviously given much thought to her world-building for this section, particularly when it comes to the steampunk elements related to navigating through the aetherosphere. For example, the dirigible relies on its Mandenall Pudding Probe to emit "a squirt of viscous milky liquid, not unlike rice pudding" as a sign that the airship is directly below the correct aether current. Most aspects of this strange world are rather nonsensical and kind of wacky (like the pudding-oozing probe), but in the end, they add to the entertainment value of the story if you just give up and float along with them. (Actually, the most outrageous of Rue's adventures takes place later in the book in chapter 12: "Hijacking an Elephant Head.")
The second part of the book describes Rue's adventures in India, where she finds herself in danger more than once and is eventually separated (briefly) from the rest of her crew. Her adventures in the Indian jungle are preposterous, but mostly entertaining, as she meets some strange preternaturals who, at first, view her as their enemy. Add in a British military brigade and the former Scottish werewolf pack (now headquartered in India), and the situation gets totally out of control. Another element in this part of the story is that Rue and her friends learn that Indian vampires (called Rakshasas) are nothing like British vampires and that there are shape shifters in this world who are not werewolves in their animal form.
Meantime, Rue and Quesnel share a kiss, and Rue asks him to be her tutor in all matters of romance. We'll see how this plays out, but at first glance, I think it's pretty obvious what will happen. The only possible ringer might be Percival, who remains in the background, but might eventually emerge as a romantic player—a third side to a possible romantic triangle. There are very few clues that this will happen, but I doubt that Carriger will allow Rue to drop right into a romance with Quesnel without any competition.
Just one last quibble: My hard-cover copy of this book is sprinkled with spelling errors, the kind that are not picked up in an auto-spellcheck. For example, on page 45, "the drones were re-enacting the balcony seen from Romeo and Juliet." Of course, they were playing out a scene, not a seen. On page 207, we have this sentence: "Had he be faking…". Obviously, the correct word here is been, not be. These are just two examples taken from many similar errors. Surely the copy-proofer should have caught these mistakes before the book went to press.
If you enjoyed Carriger's PARASOL PROTECTORATE series, I'm sure that you will also enjoy THE CUSTARD PROTOCOL books. CP's four starring characters are all well developed, likable, and open to further growth and depth, so the next book should be just as entertaining as this one. According to Carriger's web site Q&A, she has contracted for two books in this series, but if this one sells well, there may be more. One caveat: I highly recommend that you read the PP books first because Prudence contains numerous references to characters and events from the PP series.
Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for Prudence where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking either on the cover art or the "Listen" icon.