“Rue had no idea if Bombay was typical of the colonies, but it was not typical of any city she’d ever visited before. Which she guessed meant the onus was on her to change what she considered city-like.”
When Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama receives a dirigible and a mission from her father, Lord Akeldama, she gathers a crew of friends to man her ship, and sets off for India. Ostensibly on the trail of some rare tea plants, she soon discovers that the situation in the British colony is more delicate and complicated than she ever could have guessed. Fortunately Rue is no ordinary girl, but a metanatural, able to borrow the supernatural abilities of others through touch, without acquiring any of their weaknesses. Along with her best friend, the Honourable Miss Primrose Tunstell, and Prim’s brother, Professor Percival Tunstell, and a charming Frenchman by the name of Mr. Quesnel Lefoux, Rue sets out to normalize supernatural relations in India.
As fans of Gail Carriger may have noticed from the names above, the characters in Prudence are largely descendants of those who appeared in The Parasol Protectorate and Finishing School series. Having only read the Finishing School series myself, I know I definitely missed a few references, and understandably ran into a few spoilers for The Parasol Protectorate. Some of the old characters do appear briefly on page, but once Rue and her crew are off to India, the story focuses on the next generation and their adventures. The group develops its own dynamic, though there are decided similarities to previous books. Prim and Percy, for example, are quite like Carriger’s other sibling pair, Dimity and Pillover. It is also quite delightful to watch Rue and Quesnel try to pretend their relationship is strictly business.
Prudence is largely typical of a Carriger novel. There is witty banter, larking adventures, and lots of tea and comedies of manners. Her romantic scenes are playful and perfectly paced. But Prudence really falls down when the protagonists arrive in India, but Indian people fail to arrive in the story as fully fleshed characters. Not a single Indian character is named in the book, even the few who play important roles. The only significant character of colour is Miss Sekhmet, a mysterious woman from Africa. While I expect she will receive further development as the series goes on, in Prudence her main traits are being beautiful and mysterious. There is also an absolutely cringe-worthy scene in which Rue is mistaken for a goddess by an Indian man, and he throws himself out of a tram to escape her wrath (Carriger conveniently provides him with a parachute in an effort to preserve the already misguided humour of the scene). Prudence isn’t precisely pro-colonial; there are definitely criticisms, and the characters encounter some situations that force them to re-evaluate their beliefs and assumptions, but overall Carriger’s treatment of India rubs the wrong way.