Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: The Parasol Protectorate

Steampunk is all the rage at the moment, and has been climbing in popularity for the past few years and moving into the mainstream. In 2008, the New York Times did a piece on the subculture. Last week, the network murder mystery show Castle featured steampunk in the episode "Punked".

In the literary world, the publication of steampunk novels has been steadily increasing and becoming more frequent. (And may I just express my sincere gratitude that Stephanie Meyer's badly written faux-vampires and their clones are finally starting to move out of the limelight?) As a genre, steampunk combines Victorian-era culture with futuristic technological advances and gadgetry (this combination can occur in various forms).

I've fallen headlong into lust with a set of books called The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger that have been getting a fair amount of press among the sci-fi/fantasy set.

The basic premise is that the supernatural exists and has been integrated into British society. One can be turned into a supernatural (a werewolf, vampire, or ghost) if one has excess soul. Alexia Tarabotti is the opposite, a preternatural, one born without a soul. Along with a lack of creativity, she has the ability to negate supernaturalness with a touch, temporarily turning vampires and werewolves back into mere mortals, and (more permanently) exorcising ghosts. While London society is aware of the supernatural, it is blissfully ignorant of the preternatural.

In the first book, Soulless, Alexia stumbles into a plot in which someone is manufacturing vampires. Which brings her into contact with Lord Conal Maccon, the Alpha of the local werewolf pack and head of the government's Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) which has jurisdiction over all things supernatural.

The second and third books takes the readers onto a dirigible ride into Scotland, and a mad dash into France and Italy, respectively. Along the way, Alexia learns more of her preternatural heritage and picks up odd companions to make up her Parasol Protectorate.

If you're looking for high literature, these aren't it. What these are are just plain fun. They're tongue-in-cheek, witty, full of a hodge-podge of eccentric characters, and enough political machinations to shake a parasol at. Plus, fantastic world-building (I'm a world-building junkie) of the supernatural/human culture. Each successive book is better than the last, and I'm eagerly awaiting the publication of the fourth book next July. (Is it July yet?)

"A vampire, like a lady, never reveals his true age."

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