Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and Mad Scientists in Steampunk Victorian London!
I love steampunk and I love all things vampire, so I was thrilled when I found the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. I am currently involved in some very labour intensive work for a series of articles that will be coming to this site very soon, and having the audio books of this series on in the background has been great! This is a five book series which is set in an alternate Victorian London, unless the author knows more about Queen Victoria fraternising with vampires and werewolves than the history books have recorded. The writing style has been likened to Jane Austen and P.G.Wodehouse. If I had to describe the series in a nutshell it would be if Austen and Wodehouse did Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, it must be said that the heroine of the series, Miss Alexia Tarabotti is less chosen one and more soulless one. This is a series that straddles many genres, and I believe it has something for everyone! There is paranormal romance here, but also plenty of room for comedy of manners, adventure and mystery. All this with pauses for cups of tea and impeccable manners.
Soulless ~ Changeless ~ Blameless ~ Heartless ~ Timeless
I began writing about each book separately but very quickly realised that it was impossible to do so without revealing some major spoilers. You will find yourself wanting to read the next book and then the next, so I very much recommend buying the box set rather than each book individually. Not only will the box set work out cheaper, but when you finish one book the next will be right there.
The first book introduces us to Miss Alexia Tarabotti and her world where those with excess soul can be turned into vampires and werewolves. Miss Tarabotti, on the other hand, not only does not have excess soul, but has none whatsoever, and is thus a rare Soulless. The soulless can make a preternatural lose their superhuman abilities by simply touching them. This means even a werewolf in the middle of the change and in the grip of moon madness will lose his fur and be once again fully human while Miss Tarabotti is touching him. This all makes for an extremely interesting basis for a story, but it just gets better!
Gail Carriger (pen name for the archaeologist Tofa Borregaard) has set her story in the Victorian era, and with her knowledge of the history of that time, has attempted to explain some of the mysteries of that time with the alternate history depicted in this story. We see how Queen Victoria has been able to build the British Empire with the help of preternaturals. Who could not rule the world with armies of werewolves at their disposal? There are other lovely gems, like the vampires being the exponents of all that is fashionable; haven’t you ever wondered where the Victorian desire for pale skin amongst the privileged came from? I found this alternate history so intriguing.
But it is not just supernatural beings, a soulless state or even mysteries and adventures, that our heroine has to contend with, oh no, she has some really big problems. Firstly, she is half Italian, and has the Mediterranean colouring of her father’s side.
“My father,” she admitted, “was of Italian extraction. Unfortunately, not an affliction that can be cured.” She paused. “Though he did die.”
“She would have colored gracefully with embarrassment had she not possessed the complexion of one of those “heathen Italians,” as her mother said, who never colored, gracefully or otherwise. (Convincing her mother that Christianity had, to all intents and purposes, originated with the Italians, thus making them the exact opposite of heathen, was a waste of time and breath.)”
Indeed, she is seen as a bit of an oddity by her family: “The ill-informed masses included her own family among their ranks, a family that specialized in being both inconvenient and asinine.”
Her soulless nature makes her highly practical and not very fashionable. “Even Alexia, spinster that she was, was given an allowance large enough to dress her to the height of fashion— although she did tend to stick to trends a little too precisely. The poor thing could not help it. Her choice of clothing simply lacked soul.”
I love the way Victorian society is shown in these books, with so much dry humour. Carriger really goes to town on the privileged class’s practices and etiquettes. There were so many times when I could not help but laugh out loud.
“All the London ton acknowledged Scotland as a barbaric place. The packs there cared very little for the social niceties of daytime folk. Highland werewolves had a reputation for doing atrocious and highly unwarranted things, like wearing smoking jackets to the dinner table. Lyall shivered at the delicious horror of the very idea.”
I have read so many vampire related books, but I can honestly say I have never quite come across any like this before. Although I was initially drawn to the series for the vampires, they don’t actually play as big or as central a role as I would have liked. However, that did not affect my enjoyment of the stories in this series at all.
As I mentioned at the top of the page, I have been listening to the audio versions of these books recently. I had originally read them, and I thoroughly enjoyed them in my own voice first, as it were, but I must say that Emily Gray does a spectacular job in the way she narrates the stories. I read a couple of people say that they found the language a little tough going at first, but I cannot say that I had that problem. Carriger has definitely given it a Victorian feel, but it is not written in Dickensian English or anything. It is modern English, with a Victorian feel. Still, if you listen to the audio book, I think the narration will help you to enjoy the story even more. You can try the first one for free, as I think Amazon/Audible do a free trial; check out their website for more details.
No matter which format you decide to go for, get your tea set out, brew yourself a pot of tea and settle in for a wonderful romp!