Review: The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger (Souless, Changeless, Blameless)
Content note: This review includes some mild spoilers for all of books of The Parasol Protectorate series, published so far (Souless, Changeless, Blameless), more or less along the lines of what you would find in the jacket blurbs. If you are highly spoiler-averse, you might want to skip the synopsis section.
The main heroine, Miss Alexia Tarabotti, is a well-bred and surprisingly well-educated spinster with highly independent personality – she is even-minded and calm but she knows perfectly well what she wants and she acts accordingly. Her family, consisting of a step-father, a silly mother and two even sillier half-sisters, doesn’t appreciate Alexia and openly frowns upon her bluestocking interests. After all her opinion hardly matter as she has no marriage prospects and more importantly, no soul – a trait inherited from her biological Italian father, the late Alessandro Tarabotti. So far you can call the story a supernatural Cinderella. Being soulless, referred to politely as preternatural, or impolitely as soul-sucker, her touch cancels out all of the supernatural attributes of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. Preternaturals, especially female preternaturals, are extremely rare and so Miss Tarabotti’s nature is unknown to everyone outside of herself, the English supernatural community, and the relevant parts of Her Majesty’s Government, Queen Victoria including.
Alexia’s life takes an unexpected turn when a poorly dressed, uncouth vampire attacks her in a library and she kills him using her famous parasol. The Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) is called in to investigate the incident, forcing Miss Tarabotti to renew her acquaintance with Lord Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, and Alpha of the London werewolves. As romance as much as mystery is at the heart of the series, Alexia and Lord Maccon fall in love with each other and get married at the end of the first part.
In the second installment, Changeless, we see them already living together (a rare thing, the author didn’t shrink from describing a married couple!) and trying hard to adjust to their new situation and duties. Not that their life is peaceful and easy. Somebody tries, unsuccessfully, to kill Alexia as she follows Lord Maccon to his native Scotland, where he had departed rather suddenly one day after talking to a ghost. Alexia travels in a dirigible with one of her sisters, two friends and her faithful secretary, Floote. I must say the dirigibles (a.k.a. Zeppelins) were greater fun than the planes although they were also slower and the food was still awful.
Without giving off too much I must mention that at the end of the second part ludicrous allegations are made against our heroine, but nobody, let alone her husband, listens to her explanations. The worst thing is that she doesn’t have a clue how to proceed either. Rational thinking seemed to have flown out the windows of that damp, mouldy Scottish castle, and the third part, Blameless, is about Alexia clearing her unjustly besmirched reputation and making her stubborn husband understand the depth of her attachment. Doing so, she is forced to travel to the native country of her father despite her delicate condition and the fact that all the vampires seem to be hell-bent on finishing her off. In Italy she partially uncovers some mysteries of her dad’s childhood (he died in Alexia’s infancy so she didn’t know anything about him), his ties to Knights Templars and many other things, pleasant or unpleasant but always fascinating, not to mention pesto, the famous Italian delicacy.
All three books entertain through sharp wit, dry commentary, and an unusual array of paranormals but their biggest asset, in my opinion, lies elsewhere. This fantasy series is based on the premise that the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church came about not because King Henry VIII wanted to have a fresher wife by his ample side but because he decided to integrate the supernaturals – namely vampires, werewolves, and ghosts – into English society. The supernaturals stopped being treated as natural enemies of the humankind and their skills were put to good uses with incredible success, creating thus the British Empire. Personally I found such a theory very original if not well-founded.
The romantic thread was presented equally well – the relationship between Alexia and Conall Maccon is so authentically awkward that it becomes nostalgically charming instead of boring. It was so nice to sit back and read about two people whose biggest obstacles were themselves.
I was also fascinated by the secondary characters – the development of Floote, Alexia’s butler/her father’s former valet, who has had much more history with the supernaturals/Templars than we’d known was riveting and the character Madame LeFoux as a liberated French woman in Victorian England was presented perfectly well. Not to mention the long-suffering Beta of the Woolsey pack, professor Lyall, a specialist in sheep.
My only complaint is that we kept getting explanations about the alternative London world that Alexia exists in over and over again. It was slightly boring I must say. Several times, someone mentions Alexia’s odd state, and the effects thereof, and about how greatly disappointed her family was with her. All of this was given ample time and consideration in the first book, there was no need to repeat it in the sequels too.
The final verdict:
I think anyone not fundamentally opposed to the paranormal romance genre will find something, if not everything, to enjoy in Carriger’s series. Personally I am looking forward to reading the next installments (“Heartless” and “Timeless”).