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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?
A Lioness in a Hat and Other Concerns
And to think – Primrose tried not to be grim – that only a few moments ago I felt misled by the claim that this is the biggest wheystation in the South Pacific.
Turns out Singapore’s Wheystation Alpha was a lot larger than one liked, when one suddenly had to run all the way across it.
The Honourable Miss Primrose Tunstell hated running. To be honest, she rather loathed exercise of any sort, it being at best heart-palpitatingly incommodious and at worst, well, sticky and stinky. If she was lucky, the most strenuous endeavour she need undertake in any given day was the lifting of a teacup to her lips. Unfortunately, since signing on board The Spotted Custard, Prim was rarely so lucky. To wit, the fact that she was right now positively dashing through a crowded wheystation. Dashing. Well … dash it!
Primrose wasn’t stupid, she was wearing her summer-weight stays and her most modish muslin travel gown. Singapore was, after all, quite close to the equator and thus deserving of warm-weather attire, even when not dashing. Yes, it was late December but it was also hot. Unfortunately, even her lightest corsetry wasn’t designed for an all-out sprint. If I’d known, I should have worn my tennis dress. Except, of course, that Primrose Tunstell would not be caught dead shopping in a tennis dress of an evening, equator or no! The very idea!
Primrose shook her head at her own flights of whimsy – Tennis dress indeed! – and put on another burst of speed as the gondola section of The Spotted Custard, which had been moored quite safely and respectably above station decks a mere quarter of an hour previous, slowly sank out of sight. So doth my ship collapse away from me, sad and sagging. I left it too long.
Of course, the initial impression might be that The Spotted Custard was intent on leaving Primrose behind. Or had forgotten about her. This was always a possibility: Captain Prudence Akeldama was anything but prudent and had, on more than one occasion, forgotten about something important. It was unlikely that she would forget about her purser, chief organiser, and best friend, however. Not that Primrose overvalued herself, but really! There was also the fact that Prim was carrying on her person, at that moment, a month’s worth of ship’s correspondences. Rue might leave Prim behind, but a letter from her adored father? Never.
Also – and this was the meat of it – they’d floated down to the Singapore wheystation specifically because the main balloon had sprung a leak. Sinking, under such circumstances, was rather more likely than not.
I guess they had more difficulty than anticipated in patching it promptly.
Primrose’s legs were burning, she couldn’t take a proper breath, and she was beginning to feel a little dizzy. But she did not want to be left behind in Singapore. Although, thank heavens, they mainly spoke English. And the shopping was to die for. In one hand Primrose carried the crew’s letters but in the other hand she had a cloth-wrapped bundle full of spices and sparkles from a recent market foray. To die for.
All of which, including her good self, would be at risk if she were left behind. I might actually be left dying for it. I don’t have an escort. I’m alone and stranded! Worse, if I have to bunk down overnight, I don’t even have a change of hat.
The topmost squeak deck of The Spotted Custard was almost out of sight. Prim could see it sinking through the open bay door as the balloon rigging came into view instead. Spoo was hanging off one rope and waving at her to move faster.
Primrose tried, she really did, but she’d never win a prize for foot speed. It simply wasn’t her preferred mode of locomotion. A sedate stroll was more her capacity. Or better yet, a nice float on air or sea.
She nearly ran into a porter.
“Oh, a thousand apologies, good sir,” she said, between pants. “But I believe my transport is sinking away without me. I do beg your pardon.” She was embarrassed to find herself short of both breath and adequate vocabulary.
The kindly gentleman did not seem to take offence. No doubt he was accustomed to people on a wheystation moving at speed. He nodded, and Primrose resumed her undignified scampering.
I’m not going to make it.
Primrose wasn’t given to flights of fancy or overly dramatic reactions to dire situations. Well, not most of the time. She tried to be practical. The pragmatic side of her brain was explaining that, given the restriction in her stride (copious skirts) and in her capacities (laziness meets corset), combined with the distance she still had to traverse, even if she made it, the leap would be more than she could safely undertake.
Nevertheless, she kept running.
Primrose ended up at the edge of the gangplank which had once been connected to the boarding deck of The Spotted Custard.
The top of the dirigible’s rigging was in front of her and the lower part of the massive red and black spotted balloon that gave the Custard her lift. Percy was now steering the craft away from the station, so as to keep the bulging balloon from crashing against it.
Prim crouched down and looked over the edge.
Spoo and Rue looked up at her from the squeak deck.
“Sorry, Prim dear!” That was Rue, her voice high and ridiculous sounding due to the still-unpatched helium leak. “It got worse.”
“Yes, indeed,” shouted Primrose down at her friend and captain. “So I see.”
“Hang tight and we’ll come retrieve you as soon as possible.”
“Oh, I say! That’s very reassuring, Rue darling. Very reassuring.”
“I’d give you a time frame but might be difficult to find helium where we’re going.”
“Oh? And where’s that?”
“Lovely. I’ll wait here then, shall I?”
“I’m sending reinforcements.”
“You’re too kind.”
“You haven’t seen whom I’m sending.”
“Better do it quickly, darling.”
Rue gave a nod and something huge and sleek and golden brown leapt from the crow’s nest, which was still well above Primrose’s head, to land gracefully on the dock next to Prim. The something resolved itself into the form of a large and quite beautiful lioness wearing a smug expression and an awfully familiar flowered sun hat and holding a large carpetbag in her mouth by its handle.
“Ah,” said Primrose politely, “good evening, Miss Sekhmet, nice weather for it?” Lovely. Now I am stranded in Singapore with a werecat. “Wait a moment. Is that my hat?”
The cat gave a meow-trill around the handle and trotted over, depositing a carpetbag full of, no doubt, useful items for two ladies weathering an undisclosed amount of time alone on a wheystation in a foreign land. Primrose shuddered to imagine what Rue would think important to pack under those circumstances. Certainly there would be plenty of pastries and a change of shoes, but would there be something as sensible as a hair comb or additional banknotes? Her darling Prudence was practical up to a point, about things that interested her, and then she was most decidedly not practical at all about anything else. Hopefully there was also a change of clothing for Miss Sekhmet. At sunrise she’d return to human form whether she liked it or not. Both Prim and the wheystation would see a great deal more of her than decency allowed.
Primrose hoped there was at least a robe. Or come sunrise, she’d be stranded in the main dirigible station of Singapore’s famous port with a naked woman. Quite apart from what that might do to Singapore, Primrose had learned (to her deep and continued trauma) that a certain naked werecat, when not a cat, played hell with her own much-vaunted stability and good sense.
Fortunately for all, Tasherit Sekhmet was currently a lioness, which Primrose always found much easier to stomach. In this particular state, she was also an excellent form of defensive escort, if perhaps a little more attention-drawing than Primrose preferred.
Prim was never one to skirt credit when due in matters of manners or monetary exchange. So she said politely to the lioness, “It is awfully nice to have you with me. I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to being stuck here all alone without escort or protection. You are both.”
Miss Sekhmet chirruped at her and nudged the bag in her direction.
Primrose picked it up and put her recent purchases and the stack of letters on the top.
“I suppose we are stuck here for no little while? We should find some place to stay. You’ll need protection from sunrise. I believe Baedeker’s indicated that the best hotel on station is the Raffles Extra High Extenuation, towards the northeastern quadrant. Shall we secure quarters?”
The lioness nodded at her.
“I take it they couldn’t fix the leak, and it got worse? I wasn’t gone any longer than I said.”
The cat meeped an answer.
“Well, there you have it. Is Rue very put out?”
A chirrup at that. It took a lot to upset the captain. It was one of Prudence Akeldama’s stronger points that she took everything in stride, easygoing and eager to please. Prim herself would have been annoyed at any delay, even if they really didn’t have anywhere urgent to be. Just on principle, because Primrose liked everything in order. Rue, on the other hand, would let the ship sink and figure it all out later without a break in her general good humour.
Ridiculous child. Prim sighed.
“How is it,” she asked the cat, “Rue’s harebrained schemes always end up with me in trouble?”
The cat didn’t answer, simply started trotting off across the dock towards the enclosed central residential area of the busy station.
Prim scurried after her. “Slow down, do! Let me tie a ribbon to you at least, so you appear to be under control. You’ll cause a panic simply wandering about like that. People will think you’re a fearsome wild beast, loose among them.”
Tasherit paused, turned on her haunches, and hissed.
“Yes, yes, I know, you are a fearsome wild beast in a hat. But consider appearances, please, do.”
The cat paused for Prim to catch up to her. Prim tried to untangle one of her hair ribbons so she might wrap it around the lioness’s neck in a mock leash. Unsurprisingly, the cat would have none of it, but moved off again, expecting Primrose to follow.
“Oh, do slow down! Be sensible. I just ran through all this, and I’m not made for this kind of undignified rushing all over the place. And now my hair has fallen!”
Tasherit ignored her.
“Cats!” said Primrose to the station at large.
The station, no doubt, would have agreed with her, if it didn’t have its own business to attend to.
Initially, Tasherit snaked through and around the crowds, skirting them in such a way as to have people glance in her direction, wince, and then glance quickly away, no doubt hoping that what they had observed was a remarkably large domesticated dog of some feline persuasion, and not a random lioness wearing a straw bonnet a mile up in the air on a dirigible station.
Then, of course, someone in what proved to be some form of military attire spotted her and blew a decidedly aggressive whistle. Primrose was reminded of the first time they had met Miss Sekhmet. She’d been a lioness then, too, and had eviscerated a perfectly respectable teahouse.
A spot of tea would be lovely right about now, thought Prim, and then, Oh no, we’re running again. Pox.
The orderly, or policeman, or enforcer, or whatever his official moniker was, was running after Tasherit. So Primrose trundled after him, now laden down with carpetbag and regretting everything about her modern and entirely fashionable marigold gown with leg-of-mutton sleeves and embroidered bodice. It was too warm, too constricting, too noticeable, and it clashed with the bag.
The lioness’s straw hat tilted at a jaunty angle. Prim had to hope it was well secured – it was one of her favourites.
Eventually, without too much bother – Miss Sekhmet clearly wasn’t trying to cause chaos – the lioness disappeared around or behind or into something and the policeman gave up the chase and his aggressive whistling.
He gave Prim an aggrieved look. “That your lioness, Miss?”
“No,” said Prim, primly. Well, Tasherit wasn’t hers. They were merely travelling companions.
“Then why are you chasing her, miss? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Why are you chasing her?”
“Merlion rumours, you know.”
“Ah, you aren’t a local.”
Primrose looked down at herself, and then back up at the man. He was a cheerful fellow, round faced and handsome, if you liked that sort. Prim supposed she ought to like that sort and so put a concerted effort into flirtation.
“My dear sir, do I look local?”
“Singapore’s got all sorts,” he said proudly.
“Well, as I am clutching a carpetbag on a dirigible wheystation, I’d guess odds are against me being a resident of your fine city.”
“Are you alone, young lady?”
“That’s not on for your people, is it?”
Primrose baulked. “And whose people is that?”
Prim tried to dampen a blush. “Ah, well …” It’s a fair accusation.
The young man straightened. His eyes had a pleasing tilt to them, and, while dark in colour, they twinkled. “Might I escort you to your destination?”
Is he being gentlemanly, or nosy? wondered Prim. Ah well, in either case I’ve lost my feline escort. A man in uniform can’t be all bad. And I can always bop him with the carpetbag if he becomes impertinent.
Primrose also possessed, tucked into a secret pocket of her very nice yellow-orange dress, an equally nice .22-calibre pistol. Although perhaps not quite so pretty in colour. Prim didn’t like guns, and she didn’t like to have to shoot them, but that didn’t stop her from being very, very good at it.
“Where are you headed?” enquired Mr Uniform-Twinkle.
“Um, I’m afraid I don’t know you at all, so I must decline your kind offer. I assure you, I shall be perfectly topping all on my lonesome.”
“But, miss, there’s a ruddy great lioness dashing about.” The man tilted his head and frowned, looking genuinely concerned for her safety.
“What’s your interest in the matter anyway, miss? You were chasing her too.” The man narrowed his eyes, now more suspicious than concerned. One had to give him credit for persistence.
Primrose shrugged. “I like cats.”
He snorted a laugh, recognising her avoidance of the subject, and offered her his arm. “Captain Lu, ma’am, at your service.”
Prim took his arm. It was, after all, the polite thing to do. “Miss Hisselpenny.” She didn’t give her real name. Instead she used one of her more common aliases. Rue would know to look for her under Hisselpenny. They often pretended to be the wealthy and errant Hisselpenny sisters, when out and about. It simply made life easier, most of the time, to be someone else.
The moment she took the young man’s arm, however, there came a yowl. Miss Sekhmet reappeared from wherever she’d gone and charged, head butting between them, hissing and spitting.
“Stand back, miss, I’ll protect you,” said the young gallant.
Well, who would have thought, a true gentleman and not simply a nosy flirt. How refreshing. Prim’s faith in the innate kindness of human nature was restored, even if this man’s attempt to save her was misapplied. He shoved her to one side and she stumbled, emitting an oof noise that if asked about later she would categorically deny.
Primrose straightened and tried a winsome smile on the young man who now faced off against the lioness, brandishing a truncheon.
“Oh, Captain Lu, don’t be silly, she’s not dangerous. At least, not to me.”
“So she is yours?” He looked back and forth between them.
Miss Sekhmet, with a cat’s impeccable timing, stopped hissing at the officer and glided over to Prim, rubbing against her hip in a possessive manner.
Prim rested one gloved hand on the top of the hat on Tasherit’s head. The cat sat down primly and curved her tail around her massive paws. Her un-catlike dark brown eyes narrowed and then she let out a great big yawn, showing all of her wickedly sharp teeth.
Captain Lu flinched.
Tasherit closed her mouth, twitched her whiskers, and looked impossibly pompous.
“What have I said about yawning in public?” admonished Prim, and then to the young captain: “She is no one’s but her own.”
“Ah, yes, I see. But you two are together?”
The young man straightened. “Well, then, I must insist you have her under some kind of control. At the very least a collar and lead. Frankly, station regulations dictate she be caged.”
Primrose bristled and so did Tasherit. “We really are only trying to get to a hotel of some kind. Then we will both be out of your hair.”
The captain looked upset until the lioness yawned again. “Oh, very well. Let me escort you to …” He went to offer his arm to Primrose once more, very brave considering how close the cat sat at Prim’s side.
Tasherit hissed at him again. She did not want his company.
“I assure you we will be fine.” Prim nudged the cat with one foot to stop her from causing any more of a scene.
“Miss Hisselpenny, you can’t go wandering around alone with an untethered lioness. It’s simply not done. Especially with the merlion rumours.”
“Again, merlion, what does this word mean?”
Miss Sekhmet cocked her head, also interested.
“A sort of supernatural spirit animal, half lion, half fish. Supposedly one was spotted in the harbour only yesterday.”
“And this is connected to us, up here on a dirigible station, how?”
“Well, that is a lioness.”
“I assure you, she has no tail.”
Primrose shook her head at the absurdity of this conversation. “Aside from the one you see lashing right at this very moment.”
“Well, then …”
“Captain, if I assure you that this lioness is” – Prim searched for a way to be truthful, because she couldn’t very well call Miss Sekhmet tame – “disciplined and well behaved, could we be allowed to get on? Then we will be safely out of the public eye. We are rather causing a fuss here.”
And they were. A crowd had gathered around them in a wide circle to stare curiously at the pretty Englishwoman with the unbound hair, the handsome young station captain, and the lioness in the straw bonnet.
The captain looked about, apparently just noticing their audience. “I feel I ought to fine you or something.”
“For having an unlicenced lioness?”
Captain Lu looked embarrassed. “Well, yes.”
Primrose shook her head and crossed her arms. “Well, go on then.”
The young man whipped out a notepad and began scribbling on it with a stylus.
The crowd, now realising this was devolving into that most common and uninteresting of occurrences, the traffic infraction, began to disperse. Although a few attempted to touch Miss Sekhmet, she hissed at them and they thought better of it. She was, it must be admitted, a great deal less fierce in the straw bonnet. But Prim left it on her, because she had only one free hand as it was, and she needed that for her gun, just in case.
The young man handed her the slip, which Prim glanced down at with interest. It was written in English, which somehow surprised her. She had expected some of those lovely Chinese swirly characters. But she supposed official language meant officially written language as well.
The fee was nominal and she could have Rue pay it to the station, once The Spotted Custard returned to pick her up. If they returned.
At the bottom Captain Lu had scrawled a wheystation quadrant address, possibly his own. How very presumptuous.
Prim looked up, blue eyes narrowed. “What’s this, then, sir?”
“My direction, miss.” He blushed quite red. “I mean to say, that of my posting station. In case you need further assistance. That’s my office. You can find me there most nights, or send a runner.”
This was accompanied by what could only be described as puppy dog eyes.
Oh dear, thought Primrose, not too surprised, I’ve made a conquest.
The lioness gave a funny huff noise that was likely her version of a snort, and turning, began to trot away once again. Her long tail was held aloft, the white tip twitching only slightly, flag-like.
Primrose nodded a farewell to her erstwhile captain and followed quickly after. “Slow down, you! This is what started the whole mess.”
Primrose didn’t turn back to see, but she thought she heard the young man laughing.
Well, I guess I brightened up his evening.
Tasherit eventually brought them to the door of a respectable-looking hotel. Full of foreigners, of course, but then again this was a foreign land, so Prim didn’t quite know what she was expecting. Everyone seemed nice enough. And who was she to complain, gallivanting about with a lioness?
She ascertained that they had available rooms and accepted pets, ignoring Tasherit’s hiss at the use of that word. The hotel staff were not as upset as they ought to be to find Primrose travelling alone as a female, although they were shocked that her pet proved to be a lioness. By the time they noticed this – Tasherit put both massive paws onto the reception bar and then stood on her hind legs to look the clerk in his gobsmacked face – Prim already had key in hand, a room number in mind, and was bustling off. She ignored their cries of “Miss, miss, is that a big cat? Miss, I don’t think that qualifies as a p …”
Primrose unlocked their room door, grateful that this strange land did not provide porters or hostesses. It was a novel thing to enter a room without guidance. It was fortuitous, however, because the moment they were alone, Tasherit shifted form.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Prim, hiding her face behind her own hands and not watching. She would absolutely not look. Well, maybe just a little peek.
Primrose could never get accustomed to the sound. The wet snapping and crunching of bones and flesh breaking and re-forming itself. The lioness hissed in pain and then, out the other end, whimpered very softly. It had to be agony, for Miss Sekhmet was an incredibly strong woman, to be brought low enough to whimper. It hurt Prim’s teeth even thinking about it.
Prim unclenched her jaw but did not drop her hands until she had turned away from the noise. She upended the carpetbag onto the small single bed and ruffled through the contents.
Triumphant, she recognised the pile of fuchsia silk as one of Tasherit’s many robes, and went to toss it to her.
Except there was warm breath and golden skin right next to her, and one graceful arm reached around to pluck the robe from her suddenly slack grasp.
“Mine? Thank you.”
For the life of her, Primrose could not fathom why the presence of Tasherit in human form had such a profound effect on her breathing. She assumed it was some mixture of awe and terror. After all, Prim had seen the lioness rend asunder more than one man in battle. And yet Prim was not scared of Tasherit in cat form.
Perhaps it was her force of personality? So stubborn and fierce, regal, or worse, playful. Or perhaps it was the way she smelled, of amber and apricots.
Primrose twisted her engagement ring under one glove self-consciously and took a long deep breath, shifting subtly away from proximity to the naked supernatural creature.
Uncaring, Tasherit swung the robe on and belted it with a wide colourful scarf, also from the carpetbag pile.
Prim turned to face her, watching as she combed through her thick straight hair with careless fingers. Prim’s own fingers twitched.
Forcing herself to focus elsewhere, Primrose bent over the objects scattered on the bed. As I predicted, nothing as sensible as a comb. No night-rail either, charming. And what am I meant to sleep in, Rue?
- "Carriger excels at wry humor and clever phrasing, and her ensemble cast is thoroughly charming and satisfyingly diverse. There's a genuine sense of whimsy and fun running throughout this story."—Publishers Weekly
- "Carriger's trademark wit and whimsy are in evidence from the very first sentence, and the result is an inventive madcap adventure."—RT Book Reviews on Imprudence
- "Blending steampunk and urban fantasy in a colorful alternate Victorian England, Carriger presents a grand cast of characters on a harrowing adventure that stretches from England to India... Filled with lavish fashions, supernatural high society, and witty dialogue, this story is a fine introduction to a fabulous new series."—Booklist on Prudence
- "Carriger maintains a droll, tongue-in-cheek tone, and her protagonists are as concerned with witty banter and fashionable hats as they are with fighting for their lives. Series fans will enjoy this mischievous romp, which revisits old favorites while raising a new crop of charming characters."—Publishers Weekly on Prudence
- "Readers who delighted in Carriger's Parasol Protectorate will be entranced by the familiar cast and trademark wit of the new Custard Protocol series...Behind the delightful whimsy and snarky observations, there is a great deal of heart and soul."—RT Book Reviews on Prudence
- "The author's humor and affection for her outlandish characters is always appealing. A fun launch."—Library Journal on Prudence
- "Soulless has all the delicate charm of a Victorian parasol, and all the wicked force of a Victorian parasol secretly weighted with brass shot and expertly wielded. Ravishing."—Lev Grossman
- "The dialogue is as smart and snappy as ever, full of intelligent humor and artful verbal sparring."—All Things Urban Fantasy on Changeless
- "Changeless is equal to Soulless: witty, sexy, graceful, and unpredictable. With a few more novels, this delightful, Ms. Carriger will be challenging Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris for the top of the New York Times bestseller lists."—Fantasy Magazine on Changeless
- "Carriger delivers surprises with every book, and this one is no exception. With action, intrigue, and above all, proper manners, this excellent series will have broad appeal to readers of steampunk, urban fantasy, and paranormal and historical romance."—Library Journal on Heartless
- "The world of Timeless is a unique recipe of steampunk and fantasy spiced with light sprinkling of romance. Its setting is rich for characters to romp about in, but the unbridled playfulness of the language and dialogue shines brightest."—The Miami Herald
- On Sale
- Jul 17, 2018
- Hachette Audio