I wasn’t sure about recommending the Parasol Protectorate series, because I had some issues with the worldbuilding; while it’s set in an alternate universe, the portrayal of Scotland in the second book didn’t ring true for me. In spite of these reservations, I found these books engrossing, uproariously funny, and terribly fun. And what better reason to recommend a book than that it was fun?
So here I am to tell you all the things I loved about this series. From the protagonist, Alexia, to the supernatural steampunk world, these books are fast-paced, supernatural adventures set in an alternate universe where werewolves and vampires are accepted parts of Victorian society.
Alexia Tarabotti is a preternatural; where supernatural beings had an excess of soul in life, Alexia was born with none. This makes her terribly logical and practical, and she has little time for the social niceties and romantic frivolities expected of gentlewomen in her culture. Her rare preternatural abilities also mean that she neutralises werewolves’ and vampires’ supernatural assets with a single touch, which can come in rather handy, but also makes her a target for those who would use her abilities and those who fear them. Alexia’s sardonic wit and no-nonsense attitude had me immediately warming to her and laughing out loud.
One of the most common targets of Alexia’s sarcasm is Victorian society. Although the world is different from our own, the core setting is still recognisably Victorian London, where a forthright and independent woman like Alexia sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s a city of artifice and moral self-righteousness, and Carriger weaves the werewolves and vampires seamlessly into this culture. In Carriger’s world, vampires run the fashion world – they’re the reason pale, freckle-less skin is so fashionable – while werewolves’ mandatory military service lends their supernatural strength and resilience to the British empire’s expansion. The British people consider themselves terribly progressive for welcoming supernaturals into society rather than hunting or fearing them but, much like the Victorians in real life, they are often much less progressive than they think they are. And it’s because Carriger captures the zeitgeist of Victorian Britain that I was able to forgive the inaccuracies in the representation of Scotland; while it didn’t feel like Victorian Scotland, it felt a little like a Victorian Englishwoman’s idea of Scotland.
The Parasol Protectorate books are fun, witty stories about the things that go bump in the night, set against the backdrop of Victorian London.
Nicola lives and reads in Edinburgh, hiding from gale-force winds with a cup of tea and a book.