In preparation for Monday’s review of Gail Carriger’s Heartless, how about a set of mini reviews for the previous novels in the Parasol Protectorate series?
I must warn you: I love this series. It makes me giddy that it will be five books when I originally thought there would only be three. I love that a new one comes out every six months or so. I love the main character, Alexia, her grumpy werewolf husband, her flamboyantly fabulous vampire friend, Lord Akeldama, and all the magic gadgets provided by the wonderfully French Madame Lefoux. Carriger created a world that I want to be a part of, a world where alpha werewolves have to attend polite dinner parties and vampires are the prime purveyors of all knowledge, both useful and gratuitous. Add in dirigibles and a dash of steampunk, and who wouldn’t want to live in that world?
Even though, in the first novel, many of the characters seem like clichés, I didn’t mind because of the world they lived in and, above all, the literary flourishes that made me actually laugh out loud. A lot of these current paranormal romance and young adult novels could be saved by a little bit of cleverly stylized writing. Carriger manages to find her voice early on and maintains it consistently throughout the series.
I think my favorite thing about this series is that Gail Carriger utilizes steampunk elements in stride. Even when ridiculous, such as in the case of the mechanical killer ladybugs, she still manages to keep the quirkiness from overpowering the main plot or overshadowing the characters. I’ve begun to appreciate that more as I read more novels that attempt to mix steampunk with the supernatural.
Since we’re talking about three consecutive books in a series, spoilers do arise.
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
Paranormal Romance / Steampunk
At the time I read this novel, it took me weeks to get through a single book due to crazy schedules and a lacking attention span. Not this one though. I zipped through it in a giggly two days, immersing myself in the magical world that Gail Carriger creates around the audacious Alexia Tarabotti. Alexia is of a rare breed that can turn immortals mortal again with skin-to-skin contact due to her lacking a soul. When rogue vampires and werewolves begin disappearing, she is quickly pulled into the whirlwind of the supernatural world where both sides fear and suspect her.
I was sold on this book the moment I read that she fought supernatural beings with a brass umbrella. Yes, Alexia is a total Mary Sue, good at everything, loved and/or adored by all the men that she spends any considerable time with, and more knowledgeable and clever that everyone else. Despite that and the addition of a grumpy Alpha werewolf that seemed like the male lead in just about any bad romance novel (though with the addition of that whole werewolf thing), this book made me happy. It was light, fun fluff that made me giggle and smile even just thinking about it between readings. There were no big surprises or twists, but that's okay. It is a comedy of manners invaded by vampires, werewolves and ghosts! What more could you really need?
Gail Carriger is a great world builder, setting the tone of the universe very early on and adding details that made the world even more believable. She populates it with vampire dandies and werewolves ranging from the intellectual to the brutish. She mixes a fast paced mystery with the courtship between Alexia and Lord Maccon, a relationship that should not work in the slightest, but remains believable in Carriger’s capable hands.
A light fluffy read with a wonderful world populated by fun and entertaining characters; a blend of the current paranormal romance fluff and a Jane Austen novel (heavier on the paranormal romance)
Changeless (Parasol Protectorate #2)
Paranormal Romance / Steampunk
In Changeless, the focus moves from squarely on Alexia to the werewolf pack she has married into and the mysterious “illness” that has caused some supernatural creatures to become human again. Because she is soulless and has the power to cause the same effect, Alexia is of course the perfect person to figure this whole mystery out. In her search for her suddenly missing husband, she ends up in his homeland of Scotland where his former pack seems to be facing a potentially pack-threatening disaster. And, of course, even stuck in the uncivilized country of Scotland, Alexia is an entertaining character with funny observations and witty repartee with everyone around her. It should get annoying, but for some reason, it just doesn’t. It’s the magic of Gail Carriger.
A large chunk of volume two takes place on a dirigible with an oddball group of characters that really shouldn’t be traveling together. Someone is, of course, still attempting to poison/maim/kill Alexia due to her soulless condition, and she keeps managing to avoid being poisoned/maimed/killed. The witty banter and twist on Victorian literature that made the first novel so much fun continues and expands to a wider set of supporting characters. Best friend Ivy still has her hideously ugly hats, but has also perhaps found love with a budding actor (and potential future werewolf). Alexia’s sister somehow ends up in the midst of things also and remains delightfully annoying and full of herself.
Carriger’s storytelling is lightning fast, but at the same time, she puts in minute details that become important later on. It’s clever story telling that most paranormal romance novels just don’t seem to have with the added benefit of fun gadgets, cagey supporting characters and a delightfully strange mystery. It ends on a cliffhanger that had my sister-in-law on the verge of buying the third book to read on her iPhone because I didn’t have my copy on me when she finished.
More mystery, more werewolves, more of Alexia being awesome and saving the day; steampunk elements displayed more; witty dialogue and crazy scenarios that entertain
Blameless (Parasol Protectorate #3)
Paranormal Romance / Steampunk
I think of the first three, Blameless is my least favorite story, but my favorite cover and it is still a delightfully entertaining read. In it Alexia is abandoned by her husband and her family due to her unprecedented pregnancy, so she goes on a trip to find proof that Lord Maccon is in fact the father of her child or, worse case, how her child came to exist if he isn't. This takes her through mainland Europe while constantly being pursued by those pesky vampires, who wish both Alexia and her unborn child dead.
Because most of this novel takes place on the road, it loses a lot of the charm the setting of Victorian England lends to the previous novels as well as lacking some of our usual secondary characters, such as Lord Akeldama (who always makes a story that much more fabulous), Ivy, and Professor Lyall (who is featured, but not in exchanges with Alexia). Instead we get the Templars in Italy, who introduce Alexia to pesto (a multi-purpose weapon!) and who have previously run an experimental breeding program with previous soulless.
It’s the little details that Carriger comes up with that make me love these books. There’s an attack of mechanical ladybugs sent by the vampires to destroy Alexia. She and her traveling companions must make a daring escape in a flying contraption that’s half helicopter, half deathtrap. Her loyal butler Floote never leaves her side and protects her in only the way a man who has watched her grow up could. Meanwhile Lord Maccon is getting progressively more drunk on formaldehyde, not realizing he put his wife and child into horrible danger, while Professor Lyall tries to hold everything together.
The writing remains clever and irreverent. Alexia continues to be one of my favorite recent female protagonists, taking situations in stride and remaining strong and confident even when everything is working against her. It’s obviously one of those books where everything is meant to end up okay, but it doesn’t matter. The sense of humor and fun that carry the plot of the first two novels continues as Alexia’s life becomes even more complicated.
Missing some of my favorite characters, while introducing many new ones; remains clever and humorous even if a bit of the shine has worn off