Smart and Sexy Heroine Seeks Perfect Accessory: A Review of The Parasol Protectorate

Is it cheating to write a review for an old favorite? I hope not since I seem to be making a habit of it. I’ve read The Parasol Protectorate a few times since it came out (and it’s not even that old), and it never fails to make me laugh. Beware, there will be minor spoilers for the entire series.

I didn’t know steampunk paranormal romance was a thing until I read these. I’ve been trying to decide if it falls into one category more than the other, but it really sits squarely in the middle of the two. A smart and sexy romance with a werewolf in the middle of a steam-driven Victorian London sounds a little cluttered when you first hear it, but Gail Carriger makes it work. And I will say I do not usually go all in for vampires and werewolves, but she makes those work too. Overtime.

The first in the series, Soulless, introduces us to a spinster, Alexia Tarabotti, who is, in fact, without a soul. In a world where excess soul can result in becoming a vampire or a werewolf or even a ghost, Alexia’s lack makes her something called a preternatural. With a touch she can make any vampire or werewolf human again. She can also exorcise ghosts, but only by touching dead bodies, which is just so undignified.

Alexia is sharp, fashionable, and above all competent. And I adore competent heroines. She doesn’t need a man, but he might as well tag along since it will only save time when she has to rescue him. Or point out how he’s wrong again. Part of her charm is the way she handles the awkward social gaffs that occur between naked werewolves and improperly trained vampires with aplomb, as if all one needs to deal with the supernatural is a strong will and matching accessories.

The contrast between Alexia’s various self-consciousness (the source of which changed from book to book) and her confidence as a preternatural could have been jarring, but Carriger handled it so well that Alexia ends up feeling like a fully-formed human instead of a creation made up of individual parts. It helps that she’s supported by a vivid cast of characters, each one adding to the sense of ridiculous without tipping the balance. Making Alexia the sanest and most practical of them all.

The first of which is her love interest, Lord Conall Maccon, the Scottish alpha of the local werewolf pack, gruff and gentle and just the right amount of unkempt. Always nice when you can fall in love alongside the heroine. Their interactions, when they weren’t arguing, were surprisingly sweet. I mean sexy. Wait, sweet. Can it be both? All right, it’s totally both. And unlike a lot of paranormal romance or urban fantasies, the heroine gets her guy in the first book, and we get to spend the rest of the series watching their relationship grow and mature through marriage and pregnancy and varying threats of death and dismemberment. See, sweet, right?

I found it extraordinarily refreshing that Alexia spends most of the series married and that there is never any danger of the love triangle so prevalent in similar subgenres across the board. On a completely selfish note, I love slightly older married women as spunky romance heroines. They give me hope. And look at that, conflict and character growth existing in an established relationship? What a unique concept.

As a quick aside, if you like these books at all I would suggest picking up Soulless: The Manga. The first three books have been adapted, and they are brilliant. The artwork is both fun and gorgeous, and they actually do a superb job of following the storyline and the dialogue of the original books. They capture the humor without losing any of Carriger’s style. I actually got to meet Gail Carriger at a conference once and talked with her about manga and how much she loved the adaptations done for Soulless and look, look, she even signed them for me! Pardon the fangirl moment.

If I had any criticism for The Parasol Protectorate, it would be that the mysteries that drove the books were never as interesting to me as the interplay between Alexia and Conall, or Alexia and Madame Lefoux, or Alexia and Lord Akeldama… I could keep going. I feel like the driving force of the books was always Alexia herself and that’s what kept me reading. I enjoyed the world building and the action, the archaeology and the theology and the philosophy, but in the end those were just there to give Alexia something to do and interact with. Not a bad thing in my opinion, since Alexia and all her associated entourage were well worth following around.

Now I’m off to read The Custard Protocol because I somehow missed that it’s about Alexia’s daughter, Prudence, and I have to rectify this mistake immediately. Like, right now.

 

5 Comments

  • Shara White November 22, 2017 at 7:52 am

    I adore these books and you’re making me want to re-read them! But this also reminds me I need to catch up on the Custard Protocol as well as the Finishing School series! I adore Carriger’s work!

    Reply
  • Lane Robins November 22, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Not Spec fic at all, but if you like these because of the heroine, you might check out at least the first few of the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. They’re a lot of fun and scratch the same sort of itch–the confident, competent heroine who flouts social convention.

    Reply
  • Weasel of Doom November 22, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Can’t wait to hear what you two think about “The Custard Protocol.” And the Finishing School series, for that matter… My spoiler-free opinion is that “The Parasol Protectorate” is the best of them all 🙂

    Reply
  • Terry Gene, Author of Matryoschka Series November 22, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    thrilled to see more of these reviews. They expand my need-to-read backlog.

    Reply
  • Terry Gene, Author of Matryoschka Series November 22, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Recent reads let me to include this in my Daughters Novel. We need more heroes that happen to be female.

    There I teased one gray-market merch after another into demonstrating their heavy caliber weapons, I smiled and walked away from any booth hawking lady-pistols, or those prissy things called Assault Rifles. I was after real game, not engaging in a macho ritual of spraying my seed in bursts of forty. A heavy hand landed on my shoulder and gripped. I knew that grip and ignored it while checking the pistol grip and magazine insertion forces of the fifty-caliber sniper rifle.

    “It’s time to go little sister.” Katy wasn’t taking my hint.

    I handed my fave, so-far, rifle to the merch, turned and glared at her. “Now what that hell is so important?”

    “You ditched classes and your assigned guard. It wasn’t hard to trace you to that ratty motel. It was obvious that you would be at the gun show.”

    “Leave me alone. I have business.”

    “No. You’re building an unhealthy obsession over Mr. Mort Y’Arty and the people who back him. Do I need to call Antonia?”

    “Christ no. She’d bitch slap me through the phone. With her home in Houston for her uncle’s funeral, I thought I could slip up here, buy something to complement my black outfit.”

    “Did you buy anything?”

    “Still window shopping.”

    Reply

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