I just love Carriger’s work. I love her attention to detail, I love her wild ideas, I love the banter.
An important thing to note: you could absolutely read this without reading the Alexia Tarabotti novels. While they are set in the same universe, this novel gives you enough background information about the older characters to be going on with. And although, as is only natural, Prudence does reflect on her mother, it’s not an overwhelming part of her character – and one of the most awesome things is that Prudence is NOT her mother. And isn’t even the antithesis of her. Instead, she is very definitely herself.
The plot, briefly: Prudence goes to India and gets into all sorts of shenanigans while preparing to go, while on the way, and while there. Said shenanigans involve numerous supernatural creatures, a couple of boys, her best friend Primrose, several hats, and a rather large dirigible named The Spotted Custard. There is copious amounts of tea, a great deal of banter and snark, a tinge of British imperialism critique, and a lot of dresses.
The set of characters Carriger has brought together bode well for future books in the series; they fall into tropes, but they also have their amusing quirks and individuality. The best friend, Primrose, is very concerned about niceties of language and dress and manners; she’s also intelligent, socially sensitive, and I’m fairly sure she’s quite ruthless. Her twin is Percy, absent-minded professor type with loony ideas; he’s probably the least developed in this novel, but I trust will come properly into his own in the future. The fourth in the quartet is Quesnal, whose family I won’t reveal because that would be a bit of a spoiler but made me happy. He’s the engineering one, more practically-minded than the others, but also French – which in a novel like this is taken by the characters themselves to mean that he’s more emotional and sensuous (in good ways) than the more prim British.
Oh, and Prudence of course. Her family situation has meant that she is quite worldly in some ways, while still naive in others – and she knows it. She’s curious and game for adventure, intelligent and witty, and aware of her own faults. Perhaps the most intriguing part about her is her conscious use of character. She pays attention to those around her and she deliberately adopts mannerisms – mostly from her parents – that she thinks will help her in different situations. This idea of re-negotiating identity, in effect, is fascinating.
I love that Carriger is exploring more of the world that she created initially in Soulless. I love that we’ve now got a young adolescent perspective (in The Finishing School books), the 20-something perspective (here, in The Custard Protocol books), and the… 30-40, I guess? perspective (Parasol Protectorate). If I started re-reading the last again, maybe a book every six months, I could get myself thoroughly chronologically confused.
I’m really looking forward to the next book in this series (Imprudence).
Note: I had a… discussion… with some friends about whether there’s a typo on the first page, where Prudence is described as inspiring “immanent dread” in people. Given who and what she is, I think this spelling of ‘immanent’ is fine. However, I was disappointed to find a number of typos throughout the book. I’m not silly enough to blame Carriger for this and it doesn’t really subtract from my enjoyment of the novel itself, but I am quite disappointed by finding them and they do detract somewhat from my reading experience.