Book Talk: Prudence

2:36:00 PM

Every time I look at this cover I can't believe how unbelievably gorgeous it is. I mean, LOOK AT IT. It's easy to believe that after it's creation Carriger was compelled to write it into the book. That dress? Stunning. But while I could spend all day talking about the cover alone, I've got a lot of thoughts about the book itself, so let's get into it.
I had really mixed feelings about this book. When you read a Gail Carriger novel, you expect a certain level of silliness. There's a degree of suspended belief you must take on to enter one of these Victorian-supernatural-steampunk novels. But how much is too much? The Soulless series hit the bulls eye, but Prudence fell a little short of the mark for me.

First, let's talk about the things I liked.

I loved the Soulless books (the predecessors to this series) because, among other things, they addressed the idea that Alexia could be intelligent, independent, and kick-ass while also being someone who wears frilly ballgowns.

Alexia was someone who defied expectations, and I recognized that immediately in her daughter, Prudence (who would much rather everyone call her Rue). But Rue is not Alexia, and anyone who is expecting as much will be greatly disappointed. I appreciated this. It felt true to life to see a mother and daughter who care about each other but who clash and who are, at their core, very different people.

I found myself falling effortlessly back into the world Carriger spent so much time crafting in Soulless. Many of the major players you'd expect to make an appearance do in fact play a role, for example my eternal favorite (literally!) Lord Akledama. It's endlessly entertaining to see characters like beloved Biffy (the dignified Uncle Rabbiffano, to Rue) get turned on their heads by seeing them through another character's eyes.

Next, let's get into the things I liked less.

Rue comes across as spoiled, inexperienced, and sheltered, and as such, often makes a great many mistakes. I hope to see a great deal of character development in Rue as the series continues (and I do plan to continue reading).

I was excited by Carriger's decision to set Prudence in a different locale, but this was one of the things I found most disappointing. Rue and her motley crew travel to India, but you wouldn't know it, since we never actually meet any Indian characters. There are descriptions of the area, but the lingering impression is that they are somewhere very, very hot. I won't linger on the cringe-inducing and completely unbelievable scene where a guard mistakes a disheveled Rue for an Indian goddess.

The dirigible travel provided an opportunity to explore the vast differences among classes in Victorian London, and yet this is never touched upon. The various deckhands and sooties are seen as no more than The Help, even Rue's beloved Spoo. I kept anticipating seeing the differences between the two socio-economic groups play out as Prudence went on, but it never happened.

Gender is less at the forefront than it was in the Soulless series, which was upsetting - even in the first of the Soulless novels this is a plot point as Alexia, an unmarried woman, is limited by her gender in seeking a profession, confessing early on that she desires to do something "useful." Then, there is the fabulous Madame Lefoux, who dresses in menswear and who has taken up a job as an inventor and engineer. Later in the series, we meet Sidheag, the female leader of an all male pack. Those kinds of details were sorely missed in Prudence, and I hope they will be included later in the series.

If I were not such a follower of the Soulless series, I probably would have given up on Prudence halfway through - after all, it's not as though there was much of a plot to unravel. That being said, I did finish the book and plan to read the next in the series, to be published this year. I continue to hope that Carriger will develop Rue and her world and give her series the backbone it deserves. She deserves a story that stands on its own merit (not one that survives because of the slivers of Soulless peeking through).

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