I didn’t think the first review I’d do on here would be book three in a series that spins off from a parent series (a little pun there for any fellow Parasol Protectorate fans out there), but here we are!
To get this out of the way because I feel like it’s only fair: I am favourably disposed towards this author, I’ve read (I think) everything Gail Carriger’s ever published, I like her work, I like her worlds, I like her style, I like her willingness to have diverse characters (LGBT+ and POC) and I love her books. That being said, this is a review, and I’m going to do my best to discuss the positives and negatives of this book in reasonable detail, and moderate harshness. A review, in other words. I’d apologise for the rambling but if you wanted concise you came to the wrong blog.
Imagine that read in a cowboy voice, ‘cause that’s how I wrote it.
MOVING ON! The book, right, yes.
So: the reason I chose to review Competence is because I subscribe to the author’s newsletter (I told you I was a fan, see: long freaking ramble above) and she mentioned that the sales of the series were decreasing, that she didn’t want having a lesbian narrator to be blamed for poor sales, that reviews could help and that she’d appreciate them. That made me really sad. She’s a great author and I never doubted that she was wildly successful;¹ but I assumed that sales weren’t an issue for someone I consider a giant in the steampunk/romance/YA/adventure novel field. Field? Genre? Sectre? Whatever.²
The fact that Gail/GL Carriger isn’t wildly successful and widely praised seems to me a travesty I owe it to the world and Miss Carriger to correct inspired this review (yes, I do remember that was the point of this ramble, I got sidetracked explaining my motivations, sue me—only please don’t, see footnote 1 re: I’m real poor).
Without further ado: here’s my opinion, rating, pros and cons list and general recommendation regarding Competence, by Gail Carriger. This review is NOT spoiler-free and only just coherent, read on at your own risk.
If this works below above ^ will be a cover, and below ˅ will be the blurb, or you can follow this link (do I know how to insert links? Let’s see!) http://gailcarriger.com/books/competence/.
All alone in Singapore, proper Miss Primrose Tunstell must steal helium to save her airship, the Spotted Custard, in a scheme involving a lovesick werecat and a fake fish tail.
When she uncovers rumors of a new kind of vampire, Prim and the Custard crew embark on a mission to Peru. There, they encounter airship pirates and strange atmospheric phenomena, and are mistaken for representatives of the Spanish Inquisition.
Forced into extreme subterfuge (and some rather ridiculous outfits) Prim must also answer three of life’s most challenging questions:
Can the perfect book club give a man back his soul?
Will her brother ever stop wearing his idiotic velvet fez?
And can the amount of lard in Christmas pudding save an entire species?
Rating³: 4/5 stars
Pros and cons, presented as sentence dot-points in preference to a traditional list and/or review, because I’m lazy and that’s what I defaulted to writing today. I am a damn professional!
Without (even) further ado, the pros:
- I liked the book. It wasn’t my favourite in the series, but it was good and made me want to keep reading (both book and series).
- I liked that the main character/narrator was a lesbian; I liked that her love interest is a POC and I liked that it dealt with the issues regarding that (for real Primrose and Percy discussing their mother’s potential reaction made me tear-up, and it wasn’t even that emotional).
- I loved the transgender representation brought in to the book via established (not throwaway) character.
- I liked the canon bisexual, male character.
- I liked the humorous way the idea of liposuction in LA was brought in (if this seems like it came out of the blue, it sorta did, but in a good way).
- I liked the way further plotlines were developed in the book (is that more of a series critique? Eh, bonus commentary on The Custard Protocol if so.
- I liked the consistently entertaining re-imagining of history with supernaturals, more (openly) LGBT+ people and strong women.
- I liked the brief dips into narration by Percy, and I liked the way Percy was (very potentially, but I’m starved enough for representation I’ll take it) set up to be asexual and/or aromantic.
- I liked the upcoming twist of Rue’s baby and the mystery of what it will be.
- I loved the witty banter I rely on Miss Carriger for, and the way that it doesn’t take away from the content of the book. My favourite line in the book (below) is a good example of this, adressing a serious issue in a way that leaves a smile on your face.
“You want children? I will catch some for you. Can’t be too difficult.”
Now for the cons, and I’m being as honest and forthcoming as I was with the positives, but rest assured—I still very much recommend the book/series/author.
- I didn’t like the seemingly disconnected (obviously setting up further complications for continuing books) ‘bubbles’ threat (not going to count that as a spoiler, because out of context it means nothing).
- I thought the undercover nun sections of the book seemed less funny/developed than I’ve come to expect from Miss Carriger, though perhaps Primrose is just less to my taste than the outrageously straightforward Rue, Alexia, Sophronia, Bryan or Alec (other narrators in Miss Carriger’s works, some written under the name GL Carriger and I did mention I’m a fan?).
- I didn’t like how conservative/willing to be in denial Primrose was, and while I sympathise with her reasoning for not acknowledging her sexuality, her own fear of the truth is all that served for narrative tension for large portions of the book, and (in my opinion alone, as always) fell a little short.
- I didn’t like the abrupt departure of Rue as narrator immediately after she finally got with Quesnel (at last).
- I didn’t like the seemingly out of the blue moment at the beginning of the book regarding lion/mermaid hybrids, it seemed overly convenient. In fact, the beginning section of the book and several others almost seem like the book was intended to be a novella, with Primrose’s romance being a partial/offshoot work in the world of the Custard Protocol series, and then the main storyline would continue onward with Rue as narrator in the next novel—Reticence, coming 2019. That’s a pure guess, and very probably wrong, but that’s the impression I got.
Overall—I liked the book, I’d recommend you read it if you like banter, likeable characters, intriguing setting and fun, steampunk/fantasy that doesn’t take itself very seriously.
Rating (in case you missed it up top): 4/5 stars
If you liked this review and want to see more, comment below/email me with suggested books, encouragement, or feedback of every kind! TO be honest I’m pretty surprised people are coming here/reading this, so even a “U suk” would be pretty validating.
¹There’s a very good chance I still have a rose-tinted view of the world post-published novel, not having successfully travelled there, or much of anywhere, really. I am very poor and poorly travelled—pity me, or, better yet, share this blog so I get enough success to afford a passport.
²Have I mentioned I despise genres and think they fail to help provide accurate expectations for books? Because I despise genres and think they fail to help provide accurate expectations for books. If I haven’t that’ll be a future rant for you to look out for/avoid.
³I’m putting the rating first because hey, you should know what you’re getting into, I digress a lot, so I like to get to the point right up front sometimes, to keep you guys on your toes.