by Gail Carriger
Series: The Parasol Protectorate, #1Mass Market Paperback, 357 pg.
Read: May 16 – 18, 2015
This is simply not my kind of book, a fact I repeated to myself many times while reading this. But man, I was charmed by it. So charmed by it, that I didn’t care if it was my kind of book or not.
Straightaway, we have our heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, describing her mother:
Mrs. Loontwill, as she was Loontwill since her remarriage, leaned a little too far toward the frivolous in any given equation. She was prone to wearing yellow and engaging in bouts of hysteria.
Something about that second sentence killed me — and I knew I was in for the book, and likely, the series.
This is essentially an Urban Fantasy novel told in Steampunk Victorian England — the Steampunk elements are there, but they’re really just the dressing (occasionally, that dressing becomes quite important, I should point out). The book doesn’t scream “Steampunk” to me, it’s about Vampires, Werewolves, forces threatening them on behalf of humanity, humans and one rare person who’s not really any of the above. Naturally, Alexia is the latter.
The characters — most of them, anyway — are refugee’s from Austen, just turned up to 11. Probably because Carriger is willing to have fun with her characters (and at their expense), which Austen would’ve frowned on, I think. But it’s all in good fun — Carriger isn’t mean, she seems to take great delight in talking about the food, fashion and manners of the day, even as she plays with them, and sets Alexia on a course to bend, if not break, all the societal norms. Her supernatural creatures are also one foot in the society and one foot (paw?) out.
Like with most things in Victorian London, there are very strict rules about the making of new vampires — and then making sure that they know how to behave/feed/etc. When Alexia accidentally kills a young vampire at a ball — almost ruining the affair and bringing all sorts of scandal upon her mother — Lord Conall Maccon of the Bureau for Unnatural Registration shows up to investigate. Alexia involves herself in the project as well — and it soon becomes clear that a number of young vampires not properly made are showing up around London (while werewolves are disappearing all over Britain). It’s clearly not just about unauthorized vampires, there’s something else afoot — and what’s up with the bandaged stranger who keeps trying to kidnap Alexia?
It should be added that Conall is the local werewolf Alpha, and Alexia tends to bring out the wolfish parts of his personality — he brings out something in Alexia, too, but it takes her a while to figure out what. Enter the romance (sorry for the minor spoiler, but if you can make it through the first half of chapter 1 without figuring that out faster than Conall or Alexia, you’re not paying attention and should probably turn off the TV while you read).
It’s not the most original story, really. Fairly easy to predict most of what happens, too. But you know what? Carriger mixes the various elements — Austen-inspired romance, Victorian manners, Steampunk tools world, and Urban Fantasy creatures — with her wit and charm, and you just don’t care how well-trod the plot is.
This might not sound like the compliment it is, but, let me give it a shot. I hold no hope whatsoever of getting my mother to read Urban Fantasy (or Steampunk, for that matter), unless I publish an Urban Fantasy novel (or Steampunk, for that matter). But if I was ever going to succeed? It’d be with this one. The setting, the voice, the romance — all right up her alley. But it worked for me, too. And for Carriger to pull that off says a lot about her skill. I’m coming back for more.