Review: Prudence

I own all of the Soulless books in all the same size, along with the manga. I’ve met Gail Carriger herself, who is a lovely person and deserves the adoration of her fans. Also, the lady has fashion sense like whoaa. It almost makes it worth it to read her books even without the whipped cream and cherry combo of period accuracy, whimsy, and a progressiveness that doesn’t sacrifice femininity.

Put it simply, I’m a fan, all right? Done up in lace and perfumed within an inch of my life. But I digress.

Being a fan makes it a little hard to say that Prudence kind of missed the mark with me. I am a little late to the game, as always, since the Custard Protocol already has a sequel out.

There’s plenty to like about Prudence, first of all.  Alexia Macon’s aptly nicknamed daughter, Rue, certainly lives up to her mother’s irreverence and physical charm. As a skin-stealer and unifying golden child of human, werewolf and vampire (adopted), she is uniquely positioned in both society and the food chain. So when Papa Dama sends her to India to retrieve some tea as an overture to political intrigue and supernatural conflict, it’s kind of par for the course in her unlikely life.  It is also nice to see her being more than Victorian with her romantic notions. Periodically ripping out of one’s bloomers as a werewolf tends to broaden one’s horizons.

cpjapanprudence
Check out the Japanese art of a British lady in India. Anachronism!

Her friends, too, are as likable as your favorite anime after a timeskip. I’m happy to see all my favorite Soulless characters live on, carried forward by their spawn. They’re exactly what you want from a society steampunk book: a Franco-Vampire love interest tragically painted as a rake, an expert femme fatale besieged by her mother’s taste in hats, and a welcome surprise, an academic with inexplicable appeal to women. No, the characters are not a problem in Prudence. Nor are the intrigues, which jump from supernatural to society and back to something purely human again. Details like calling vamps “Bloody John” give plenty of period flavor, which root the plot firmly in things that mattered during the 1890’s. Well done there.

No, the problem with Prudence is, well, India. Rue goes to India specifically to look after Dama’s investments. While there, she runs into trouble with the local supernaturals and their agreements with Britain. Though I heart the fact that Gail took the time to represent colonialism as problematic, and misunderstandings commonplace, it is hard to read about Indians serving in the British army, and about Indians riding around in a fanciful sky train shaped like Ganesh. How would Britons like it if their locomotives were shaped like Jesus’ head, bleeding from a crown of thorns?

Now, read in a certain way, Gail did address the fact that India belongs to Indians. I won’t spoil anything there, but to me that was a step in the right direction. Historically accurate, probably. Symbolically, the ending is promising, but the fact that Rue saw NOTHING THE MATTER with Dama’s investment in the first place is disturbing. Ultimately our protagonist was acting in the interest of imperialism.

Tea is historically and symbolically Britain’s exploitation of India. I would love for Rue to use this as a way to further critique the society she lives in. I mean, come on, she’s already broken almost every rule of etiquette.

 

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