Sunday, August 2, 2015

Book Review: Prudence

Well this is later than I wanted, both for this week and in general. I think I read this book back in April or so, my library got the book surprisingly fast, and I'm not sure why I forgot about it since I have plenty to say about it....

Prudence by Gail Carriger

20 years after Timeless Prudence "Rue" Maccon has gotten a hang of her skin-stealing metanatural powers, although her personality is exactly what you would expect from a girl raised by three of the most powerful people in London. It's partially to get her out of their hair and partially an act of subterfuge to send her and some choice companions off to India, although who knows if her parents expected her to already be such an influential force in the world of supernatural politics. 

If you're a big fan of Carriger's other works then there is plenty to enjoy here, she continues to expand the world past the usual steampunk ideas both in regards to the technology (the actual "steampunk") and in location which is fun, she comes up with some amusing ideas! She also expands the supernatural world which sadly doesn't work as well; in the original book we start with vampires and werewolves and eventually expand into prenatural/metanatural beings as well. That didn't break my suspension of disbelief, both of these groups of people are historically very limited in number so it also made sense that some of the characters in The Parasol Protectorate were the first modern people to "rediscover" those groups. That excuse doesn't work here when Carriger decides to play with the divisions between vampires and werewolves a bit more, this time she asks you to believe that large groups of people exist with almost no written records of them and barely anyone knows about them even within their communities. I'm sure some people will be fine with this and accept the in-story explanations but also looking at these books on a meta-level, for Carriger to do something that really affects the setting like this it's coming in far too late with no foreshadowing at all.

Since these "new" "creatures" occur in our book's new setting, India, which like in the real world is a colony of the British, this plays into a larger question that I have seen other people asking as well, is the book kind of racist? It has characters coming from a "progressive" technologically advanced society, who fully believe that the British Empire is a wonderful thing, and all of the Indian natives they meet vary from being exotic to downright unappealing. This is not only how the characters describe their encounters to each other but how the book itself narrates the events to the reader. Rue also has to interfere in a local* dispute, admittedly she has to drag both the British and the locals to the debating table, and the implication is that the locals only have this chance because she, a British lady of considerable influence, brought it about. Once again, some people might be able to dismiss this based on in-book explanations but looking at all of the series as a whole, just about every nation outside of Britain is not "progressive". It's been shown in the books that America, France, and Italy are all very anti-supernatural and musing on Carriger's blog makes it sound like some other countries may have treaties with the supernatural but these sound like politically advantageous agreements, not agreements with widespread popular support as you see in Britain where there is some mixing between the various groups. 

For those who think that I'm harping on looking at this book as part of a larger collection instead of "viewing it for it's own merits", as it currently stands you must read this book as a sequel and not as a standalone. Perhaps after later books in the series you will be able to read the series as a standalone or start with it, this book however mentions details from earlier plots that are about to come into play and I didn't even remember these details at first! It's a bit of a shame since it seems like Carriger is more comfortable writing here than she is with the Finishing School series (perhaps because this is a sequel not a prequel and therefore has fewer limitations) but this book has some problems and so I must recommend it with reservations.  

*I'm trying to be vague due to spoilers so please excuse me for using the world local a few dozen times.