Gail Carriger introduces Alexia Tarrabotti in Soulless, the first of the Parasol Protectorate series. I love a promising new to me series, don’t you? Soulless is set in a steampunk version of Victorian England reimagined with dirigibles, vampires, and werewolves. The supernaturals have leadership, connection to government, and quite a lot of structure. But London also has a preternatural, one who cancels out their powers, in the form of young Alexia.
Alexia is the product of her mother’s first marriage. Her now deceased father was (gasp!) an Italian. He was also a preternatural. However, Alexia’s mother, stepfather, and half sisters are pure muggle. They know nothing about her preternatural status. To them she’s just a too-dark, too-old spinster with an awfully large nose. Yes, the feminist in me just wanted to give them a swift kick in the arse. Thankfully Alexia doesn’t listen to them and charges ahead with life.
She’s a reckless young woman who speaks before she thinks, and tends to annoy people at the top. But her heart’s in the right place and her abilities give her some measure of power. Alexia gets embroiled in a supernatural mystery because she’s attacked by a rove vampire.
To say Alexia investigates the situation is a stretch. Mostly she just has a habit of putting her nose where it doesn’t belong. But Lord Maccon, the Alpha werewolf, tolerates and includes her. The way they parry and thrust in a mock battle of words and gesture is pure fun.
I appreciated Carriger’s imaginative version of this time period. She throws in just enough steampunk touches, but doesn’t over describe and detract from the story line. Her pacing works well, moving the story quickly through well-defined stages. And I truly enjoyed the main characters’ interplay.
I have an omnibus of the first three books in this series, so I’m definitely planning to continue. Alexia and Lord Maccon are unique protagonists. Carriger writes in a style that mixes Victorian sensibilities with modern perspectives. Since my tendency towards heavy reads needs balance, these books will provide just that.
One thing I’m thinking about is the supernatural genre as a whole. Carriger’s concept of a preternatural is quite like the idea of nulls in Melissa F. Olson’s terrific Scarlett Bernard series. Outed vampires in Victorian England are also the focus of Anno Dracula from Kim Newman, which I adored.
After three decades of reading this genre, will any story truly feel original to me? I suspect I’ve reached the point where every supernatural book is like another I’ve already read. It’s an odd sensation, and I’m not sure how I feel about this.
Nevertheless, I encourage you to give Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series a try if you’re so inclined. It’s a fun romp on the wild side of Victorian England.