I gush shamelessly about Gail Carriger

Some of you may remember that at the end of last year I listed Gail Carriger’s Soulless as one of my most memorable reads of the year. Since then, Carriger has been most obligingly prolific- Changeless came out this spring, and Blameless a month or two ago.

I wrote a short appreciation of the Parasol Protectorate series in yesterday’s Indian Express. Talking about three books in a limited number of words was difficult, but I managed to touch on some of the aspects of these books I love: that they’re funny, fluffy, clever and wonderful at relationships. I wish I’d also been able to talk about how they’re very, very geeky. Romance novels that my boyfriend is as excited about as I am. That is pretty amazing.
My gushfest about the series is below; earlier pieces on the first two books are here and here.

Everyone is sick of love stories with vampires in them. Most people are well on the way to being sick of werewolf romances as well. And among the groups of people who actually know what Steampunk is, it has for some time been commonly thought to have had its day.

With this in mind, Gail Carriger’s series of steampunk romances featuring both vampires and werewolves ought to feel stale and annoying. Yet three Parasol Protectorate books (Soulless, Changeless and Blameless) have come out in the past year, I have devoured them all, and I am in no danger of tiring of them.

Soulless introduces us to Alexia Tarrabotti, a London spinster afflicted with a large nose, an Italian surname and a surfeit of intelligence. She’s also a preternatural, the opposite of supernatural. Not only does she have no soul, but physical contact with makes vampires and werewolves temporarily mortal.

Unlike most well brought up Victorian ladies, therefore, Alexia knows “the supernatural set” quite well. She is especially fond of the vampire Lord Akeldama with his outrageous clothing and harem of attractive young men; and Professor Lyall, the wonderfully sane werewolf Beta. Equally, she feels strong dislike for the gorgeous Lord Maccon, a werewolf pack Alpha with an annoying protective streak where Alexia is concerned. Of course she does.

Romance fans know exactly where this is going.

Soulless is primarily a romance (though with plenty of blood and guts and mad scientists). Its sequels, Changeless and Blameless are closer to adventure novels. Changeless has Alexia traveling to Scotland (by dirigible), while Blameless has her being chased across Europe amongst a gloriously silly profusion of guns, false moustaches and hot air balloons.

These books are ridiculous, and entirely comfortable being that way. But they’re also intelligently conceived. The series is thoroughly grounded in history – in Carriger’s universe the Puritan fathers left England over the decision to welcome supernaturals into society, and werewolf and vampire skills, social dynamics and safety converns are the major reasons for the Empire, the bureaucracy, and the blandness of British cuisine. Real historical concerns are brilliantly woven in; for example the second and third books in the series both address the Egyptian Question in ways that are wholly unexpected.
Alexia is a wonderful heroine. There’s never any danger that falling in love will cause her to lose herself. She’s clever, frequently self-serving, not particularly nice, and fully capable of bludgeoning you to death with her parasol should she feel threatened.

Equally, as satisfying as Carriger’s rather Heyeresque romance plot may be, the majority of the series’ most moving moments have come from the marvelous cast of side characters. I love Alexia and Maccon but would quite happily sacrifice their adventures if it meant more time with Lord Akeldama and his partner Biffy, or Madame LeFoux (excellent milliner or evil genius?) or (especially) the magnificent Professor Lyall.

Carriger’s language owes a lot to Wodehouse. It’s a difficult style to sustain, and occasionally the author slips up or sounds too forced. But this is easy enough to forgive. These books are unselfconsciously funny, smart, and completely fresh. They’re an absolute delight.

I don’t know how long this series is going to be; a fourth and fifth book have been announced, but there is no information on whether the fifth will be the last. But if Carriger is going to keep producing things at this rate and of this standard, I’d be quite happy for it to be, well, endless.


9 Comments to “I gush shamelessly about Gail Carriger”

  1. I want to borrow!

  2. Oh, I read your column! For the first time. I was so thrilled!

    And I've got to buy those books now.

  3. The daughter is such a huge Carriger fan – she was waxing melancholic yesterday about there only being three so she'll be delighted to hear that more are planned!

  4. sounds like a series to get my hands on!

  5. I say, you completely ignored the food. The food, I say! That buxom soulless one has an appetite that's, well, bottomless.

  6. I have just finished Blameless and must say that these books are probably the most entertaining peoces of literature I have owned in my whole existence. Her characters are so realistic I find it hard to convince myself that I won't stumble into Alexia while walkig down the street. Like you, I hope these series is never ending.

  7. Space Bar – This much-promised Delhi trip of yours must happen soon.

    Unmana – Hurrah! And you will love these books.

    Celine – I know that Heartless and Timeless are going to be out at some point; I have no idea if they will complete the series or if there will be more. Have you read them yet?

    nixwilliams – They are like a delicious popculture cocktail. I suspect you will squee.

    Feanor – I know, and it was a terrible thing to leave out! Though in my defence I am not quite as fond of pesto as Alexia appears to be.

    Alesia – I'm petitioning for a spinoff Lyall series called Flawless. Are you with me?

  8. Not yet – I may have to sneak them. Daughter is convinced I'll hate them ( 'they're too light for you! There's too much romance!') and despite my having promised not to tell her what I think of them she won't let me read her copies.

  9. To nitpick, the boyfriend is more excited about the steampunk implementation of two key cryptography than the romance, but does find the romance quite enjoyable.

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