Desert Isle Keeper
I’m a huge fan of Gail Carriger’s steampunk novels and was sad when her Parasol Protectorate series ended in 2012 with Timeless. Well, I’m sad no longer! Prudence picks up several decades after the previous series ended and stars Alexia Maccon’s daughter, Prudence.
It took just minutes to realize that Moira Quirk is the perfect narrator for this book, bringing the right sense of humor and tone to every character. Yes, indeed, some are rather over the top – Lord Akeldama most notably – but that’s exactly how Ms. Carriger writes the characters.
While I think this book could work as a standalone, it wouldn’t be my preference as by doing so, the new listener misses out on so much of the history of the characters. In the first few chapters numerous characters from the Parasol Protectorate series make an appearance, including Alexia and Lord Maccon. And if you have read a few books in that series but haven’t made it to the end, be warned, this review contains some spoilers related to it.
We first met Prudence – or Rue as her friends call her – in Timeless, when she was an unruly toddler just coming into her powers. Rue is the rarest of supernaturals, a metanatural; when she touches her bare skin to that of a vampire’s or werewolf’s, she shapeshifts into their character. Rue’s parents, the hero and heroine of the first series, gave Rue into the care of vampire Lord Akeldama when she was a toddler. This was the only way to protect her from other supernaturals who fear her powers.
Prudence begins when Rue is in her early twenties. She’s still living with Lord Akeldama, and is best friends with Primrose Tunstell, the daughter of Alexia’s best friend Ivy. As the book opens, Rue and Primrose are on a mission for Lord Akeldama at a ball. During these opening scenes the two encounter numerous characters and Ms. Quirk successfully varies her narration to fit the gender, age, and personality of each one. These opening scenes also demonstrate Rue’s cleverness and her supernatural abilities; to escape a difficult situation, she takes on a werewolf’s mien, and she and Primrose leave the ball with Primrose riding on her werewolf back.
At this point, I thought the book was just going to feature Rue and Primrose negotiating the London scene, but Lord Akeldama soon lets Rue know that he has a new mission for her. He tells her he’s interested in a new, special kind of tea and wants her to go to India to secure it for him. Akeldama intends to go up against the vampire-backed “Bloody John” (the East India Company) in the tea enterprise. He sends Rue to India to buy land and plants, and to start them growing. To aid her, Lord Akeldama gives Rue a dirigible to staff and command; a dirigible she quickly names the Spotted Custard.
The majority of the book focuses on Rue’s efforts to recruit a crew for the Spotted Custard, and then on the adventures they run into both on the trip and in India. Of course, Primrose becomes Rue’s chief assistant; as is mentioned at several points, Primrose goes where Rue goes. Ms. Quirk does a marvelous job distinguishing between the voices of the more adventurous Rue and the more society conscious Primrose.
The remainder of the crew Rue hires – with heavy urging from Lord Akeldama – is delightful. Percy, Primrose’s twin, becomes her navigator. Percy is socially inept, argumentative, a whiner, and easily distracted by his studies. For Chief Engineer, Rue hires Quesnel Lefoux – one of the few men she can’t manage. Quesnel is older than Rue, a charmer, and flirts unrelentingly with Rue and most other females. Ms. Quirk gives Lefoux’s voice the proper overly romantic French accent it deserves. Rue is both frustrated and charmed by Quesnel. Rue and company encounter many interesting characters and species in India, and have numerous adventures. At times some of the adventures went on a bit long for my taste, but I remained engaged, thanks to Ms. Quirk’s narration. I’m intrigued by the rather mysterious Miss Sekhmet, who comes to play a key role at various points late in the book. But without a doubt, the secondary character that shines is the irascible young Spoo, who takes on various roles throughout the book. Each time Ms. Quirk pipes up with “Yes Sir, Lady Captain,” I can just picture Spoo in my mind. By the end of the book Rue’s crew is settling into their various roles. I can’t wait to see what relationships develop between the characters as the series goes forward. Whether the Spotted Custard and crew heads back to London or to another part of the British Empire, I intend to follow along in audio, provided Ms. Quirk is the narrator; for me, she is the voice of this series.
Breakdown of Grade: Story: B+ Narration: A Unabridged Length – 12 hours and 40 minutes