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By Gail Carriger
Orbit, Hardcover, $20, 368 pp
Published March 2015

I admit it, this book isn’t quite my speed. But it’s still a fun ride.

Prudence is the latest steampunk adventure from the irrepressible Gail Carriger, a humorous romp on an airship with a pair of British women in search of the perfect cup of tea. It is a sequel of sorts to Carriger’s “Parasol Protectorate” series, set in the same world, but a generation later. So we are seeing a 19th-century steampunk England that owes a lot to modern urban fantasy — it is populated with vampires and werewolves who have assumed their rightful place amongst polite society.

Prudence (Rue) Alessandra Maccon Akeldama is the daughter of Alexia, the protagonist of the “Parasol Protectorate” series. Like her mother she is “soulless” – able to assume the powers and forms of the paranormal creatures she comes in contact with. She is also a free spirit, so when her adoptive vampire father sends her to India to obtain a rare tea, she naturally agrees, bringing along her best friend, Prim. Obtaining a ladybug-painted airship she christens “The Spotted Custard,” the young ladies of quality sail off to adventure in the colonies.

With a particularly memorable exit.

“They floated up smoothly, if rather more round and cheerful than elegant. Once clear of the trees, the propeller whirled to life, driving them forwards, preparing to push them into the correct current once they broke into the aetherosphere. Then, quite unexpectedly, the chimney off the stern belched out two great burps of smoke along with a tremendous flatulent noise.

Rue could feel herself blushing, for this was not the dignified float-off she had imagined. Some pigeons, all unnoticed until that moment, squawked and left their roosting spots on The Spotted Custard… Thus unchaperoned, The Spotted Custard farted again and floated sedately upward.”

Soon Rue and Prim find themselves entangled in international intrigue as they stumble into an interspecies war with the lycanthropes and undead of India. It turns out that werewolves and vampires aren’t the only metanatural creatures in Carriger’s world — India is populated with weremonkeys.

Along the way, Rue and Prim broker a peace deal, secure the tea and learn a little about the trampling of native cultures by the British Empire.

The plot is slight, but Prudence is full of fun. And really the novel is a playground for Carriger to show off her love of comedies of manners. Fans of Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse and Connie Willis will love this irreverent adventure story, which will continue in the upcoming Imprudence. ~~ Michael Senft

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