From New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger comes the delightful sequel to Imprudence.
All alone in Singapore, proper Miss Primrose Tunstell must steal helium to save her airship, the Spotted Custard, in a scheme involving a lovesick werecat and a fake fish tail.
When she uncovers rumors of a new kind of vampire, Prim and the Custard crew embark on a mission to Peru. There, they encounter airship pirates and strange atmospheric phenomena, and are mistaken for representatives of the Spanish Inquisition. Forced into extreme subterfuge (and some rather ridiculous outfits) Prim must also answer three of life’s most challenging questions:
Can the perfect book club give a man back his soul?
Will her brother ever stop wearing his idiotic velvet fez?
And can the amount of lard in Christmas pudding save an entire species?
Picture yourself floating through the air, with a ladybug-spotted balloon overhead, surrounded by your best friends and some adoring crew members. Picture yourself floating above India, Africa, even the Pacific Ocean. Picture yourself with fancy hats, stylish traveling dresses, and oversized parasols.
Did all that imagining make you feel light and bubbly, maybe even a little giddy? Well, that’s a bit what reading the Custard Protocol books feels like, start to finish. The books in this delightful series are clearly fantasy, feel-good adventures, featuring exotic locales and extravagant fashion mixed with plenty of tea, camaraderie, and mid-air shenanigans.
As Competence is the third book in the series (with one more still to come), it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the story so far. In book #1, Prudence, we’re introduced to the young leading lady, Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama, daughter of a preternatural and a werewolf (who themselves are the stars of the phenomenal Parasol Protectorate series). Known as Rue, she’s feisty, independent, and itching for adventure. When her adoptive father, the vampire Lord Akeldama, gives her her very own dirigible, Rue takes to the skies with her best friend Primrose, Prim’s twin brother Percy, the flirty Frenchman Quesnel as ship’s engineer, and a crew full of oddball characters. All sorts of chaotic escapades ensue, including run-ins with weremonkeys and a very attractive werelioness.
In the 2nd book, Imprudence, the crew once again floats off on adventure, this time to Egypt, where they’re pursued by various bad guys, meet a ghost, and befriend some airborne nomadic tribes, And in the midst of all this, Rue discovers the pleasures of physical intimacy and love, and enjoys both immensely.
Competence picks up the story just a little while later, but this time around, Primrose takes over as lead character, occasionally ceding the POV spotlight to her brother Percy. Through their eyes, we continue on to new adventures on board the Spotted Custard (Rue’s dirigible), first in Singapore and then across the ocean to Peru. Prim is a very proper young woman, a steadfast friend to Rue and one heck of a ship’s purser, responsible for keeping the dirigible stocked, fueled, and ready to float off at a moment’s notice. Despite being determined to achieve a society-approved good marriage, Prim finds herself increasingly drawn to Tasherit, the exotically beautiful werelioness who is now a full member of the crew. Prim can’t quite bring herself to venture so far outside the bounds of approved English standards as to enter into a relationship with a woman, but there’s no denying the spark between the two, and as Prim acknowledges, cats can be very persistent about getting what they want.
Meanwhile, the Spotted Custard’s adventures include the discovery of a strange and endangered breed of vampires, unusual weather patterns and weird pirate ships, and a spontaneous heist of helium from an unsuspecting tourist vehicle. Plus, the usual shipboard quibbles and romances, as well as philosophical discussion groups and scientific theorizing.
Competence is just as much fun as the first two books in the series. In this book, the romances in focus do not fit the mold of Victorian social acceptability — but the author’s depiction makes it clear that Rue and friends are open-minded and refuse to be bound by meaningless judgment. On the Spotted Custard, love is love, period… and that’s a very good thing, for the characters as well as for the readers. Prim takes a very long time to make up her mind, but the banter and flirtation between her and Tasherit light up the page, so you know it’s just a matter of time…
Looking back, I’m a little shocked at myself to discover that on first read, I didn’t fall in love with Prudence. It makes me itch to go back and rewrite my original review! Sometimes, though, it’s just a question of mood and timing. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to appreciate the Custard Protocol when I first read the first book. When I revisited book 1 as an audiobook, I adored it, and loved the 2nd book just as much.
A note on the audiobooks: They’re amazing! Narrator Moira Quirk does an outstanding job with the characters, capturing their voices, their accents, and their personalities, and making each one distinct and instantly recognizable. She’s also great with the action scenes, and really brings out the humor of Gail Carriger’s fantastically quippy dialogue.
The Custard Protocol series is truly delectable, and Competence is a wonderful addition. And now, we wait… Book #4, Reticence, is due out in 2019.
Title: Competence (The Custard Protocol, #3)
Author: Gail Carriger
Narrator: Moira Quirk
Publication date: July 17, 2018
Length (print): 309 pages
Length (audiobook): 11 hours, 52 minutes