Competence, by Gail Carriger, is the third in The Custard Protocol series. This time out, we follow Primrose and her brother Percival, rather than Prudence, as the main characters. We start out with Prim being inadvertently abandoned in Singapore when the Spotted Custard, her airship, springs a helium leak.
1—Prim’s and Percy’s Adventures
After being separated from the Spotted Custard, Prim—along with Tasherit, a were-lioness—Prim must secure helium for her ship by stealing a mushroom. Then, after Prim and Rue receive a coded missive from Rue’s mother, Percy must plot a dangerous and little-used course to South America to rescue an endangered species of vampire, the pishtacos. After Rue’s first attempt to meet with said pishtacos goes awry, it’s up to Prim and Percy, using nothing but good manners and logic, to convince the vampires of their good intentions. And none of that even takes into account Percy’s attempt to use a book club to save a soulless man.
Much as I love Rue, it was fun following her companions instead. Prim is so very prim and proper, often to her own detriment—certainly so in the case of her love life. It takes Prim a while to accept that she’s a lover of fellow women, and one werecat in particular. Meanwhile, Percy isn’t as happy as he thinks he is, and yet simultaneously is more happy than he thinks he is. He’s found a home on the Spotted Custard and acceptance there, and yet he believes all he really needs are his books, his research, and academic fame.
As ever, Ms. Carriger’s wit and humor are on display. The world-building continues to be superb—ladle-shaped airships, the particular habits of the South American vampires, and of course, Prim’s shopping both saves the day and reveals a good deal about the world. The romances are deftly handled, staying true to the characters. We also learn more about Floote, the Spotted Custard’s ghostly butler, and his motivations—not a lot, but what we do learn is significant.
The end of Competence left me genuinely happy. The ending is not only happy but satisfying in a visceral way. I won’t spoil it, I’ll only say Prim’s family is growing in more ways than one. And it’s marvelous.