Back at the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal, I was scheduled to be on a Steampunk panel with Gail Carriger, who was unfortunately unable to attend the convention. It was still a blast, as I met Ann VanderMeer and Christopher J. Garcia (who is quite possibly insane, but in a very good way).
Recently, I read Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels, starting with Soulless. The novels are a mix of Victorian paranormal mystery fashion and romance. There are bustles and décolletage, vampires and werewolves, zeppelins and robotic octopi.
The general setting is Victorian England, in a time where paranormals, such as vampires and werewolves, play an important role in society, even serving as advisors to the Crown. It’s an interesting premise, but really starts to wear thin before the end of the series.
The series follows Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural whose soulless nature renders supernatural creatures temporarily mortal, merely through touch. She of course has close friendships with both sets of immortals, the rogue vampire Akeldama, as well as the werewolf Lord Maccon. Alexia herself is, perhaps due to her lack of a soul, overly fashion conscious. A lack of natural creativity leads her to a series of social rules. It’s hard to explain, but works out well in the novels. Just think about how often George RR Martin goes into excessive detail about battles, lineages, or day-long feasts, and apply that to Victorian fashion accessories, pastries, and fancy hats.
As the series progresses, Carriger builds upon the back story, gently teasing out some longer term plot elements. While the last novel finally manages to bring things to a close, on an upbeat note, some of the middle novels really start to drag on. In particular, Heartless lived up to its name, being considerably less enjoyable than the other novels.
Thankfully, Timeless was worth trudging through the earlier novels. Once again the wit was clever, and the plot twists interesting, once again on par with the amusements of Soulless.
Carriger creates some very amusing characters, and often their interactions are much more entertaining than the plot they’re supposedly supporting. Her characterization is a strength, although all the talk about fashionable frippery can get a little old.
- Soulless: 4/5 stars
- Changeless: 3/5 stars
- Blameless: 3/5 stars
- Heartless: 2/5 stars
- Timeless: 4/5 stars
Soulless was a fun read. It felt witty, and had a unique tone. The remaining books are worthwhile, especially the concluding book, Timeless. If you’ve made it to Heartless, push on. You’re almost there.