As a fan of urban fantasy and fantasy of manners, it’s no surprise that a series that combines the two genres is one of my all-time favourites.
I finally finished Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series last year and while it’s by no means a series that isn’t widely known, it is a series I’d love more people to pick up purely because of the fun you’re missing out on!
So, much like I did with N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy, today I’m here to share five reasons why the Parasol Protectorate series is worth your time!
Read it for… Austen-esque fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously
The Parasol Protectorate series take place in an alternate Victorian Britain, mostly London, in which werewolves, vampires and ghosts live (well, the ghosts don’t live) openly in society. People with excess ‘soul’ are the people who can be turned into werewolves or vampires, although there’s no sure way to know that without risking the change and possible death, but our heroine Alexia Tarabotti is ‘soulless’ – also known as a preternatural. This means that when she touches werewolves and vampires they turn human for as long as she touches them, and if she touches the corpse of a ghost they’ll immediately be exorcised.
Alexia is a spinster who’s constantly getting herself into trouble, but in this version of the Victorian era etiquette is just as important whether you’re trying to ask someone to dance or trying to suck their blood. This series is silly and funny, but with Alexia as a heroine the reader is in on the joke and you can’t help but enjoy this ridiculous world of werewolves in waistcoats. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and self-aware, and so much fun to read!
Read it for… A heroine who isn’t conventionally pretty, and stays that way
When I say Alexia’s a spinster, she really is a spinster. She’s well into her twenties in Soulless, the first book in the series, and with two much younger, much prettier sisters of marriageable age she’s been left on the shelf by her mother and stepfather who aren’t quite sure what to do with her. This suits Alexia perfectly fine; while her family drive her crazy she at least has her friends, her loyal butler Floote and her deceased father’s library to keep her occupied.
Alexia is tall and chunky – she’s often needed as a chaperone for her younger sisters, but she agrees to go to parties if there’s food involved (and I’m 100% with her there) – and she also takes after her Italian father rather than her blonde-haired, blue-eyed mother. She has a large nose, strong Roman features, thick eyebrows and thicker hair. Is she ugly? No, but she’s certainly not what’s considered attractive at this period of time. After all, no one wants to look Italian and risk being called a Papist in a country where the church is controlled by Queen Victoria herself. Throughout the series she doesn’t suddenly blossom into an English rose and become gorgeous, she just happens to attract the attention of someone who does think she’s beautiful (and infuriating) the way she is, and frankly that’s far better.
Read it for… A heroine who continues to have adventures when motherhood beckons
From books three to five in this series – Blameless, Heartless and Timeless – Alexia is either pregnant or the mother of a very young child. Does that stop her from having wild adventures? No, in fact in Blameless she practically has these wild adventures alone when everyone believes she’s conceived by being disloyal to her husband, who shouldn’t be able to have children, and is ostracised from society.
In so many books, particularly YA (although this series isn’t a YA series), motherhood tends to be the end of a heroine’s story. That’s not the case here. Alexia isn’t particularly thrilled about becoming a parent, she’s not very maternal and there are so many things she still wants to do, but she doesn’t hate and reject her child either. Instead she finds a way to make motherhood fit around her life and career, rather than figuring out how her life and career are going to fit around motherhood, and it’s so refreshing after years of popping-out-babies, fade-to-black happily ever afters.
Read it for… Sex positivity
Alexia is a spinster at first, and has therefore never had any sexual experiences because such a thing would be unacceptable for the women in her society, but once she is married, to a man who shouldn’t be able to have children and can therefore give her a marriage with all the sex and none of the responsibility, she takes full advantage of that. Her husband is more experienced in this area than she is, but she keeps him on his toes and she never lets her inexperience get in the way of her enjoyment of sex – being a rather practical, logical woman, if she doesn’t know how something works, she asks, and her husband is a very willing teacher.
It’s not only Alexia who has a healthy relationship with sex, however, but many of the other characters throughout the series, including a few LGBT+ relationships and one LGBT+ relationship in particular that’s so tenderly written.
Read it for… LGBT+ characters
Speaking of LGBT+ characters, there are quite a few of them, and while this might not be straight (haha) historical fiction, Carriger does a wonderful job of normalising the LGBT+ community and writing them back into her version of Victorian Britain. There are queer men and queer women galore, from the camp to the conservative, and even Alexia herself is rather drawn to another woman who she might have pursued if she weren’t already in love with her husband, and I loved that.
Considering women in her society are expected to be nuns until they’re married, Alexia’s spent the first two decades of her life unable to explore what she might like, so even though she is happily married and very much in love she’s a reminder that many women in the past never had a chance to experiment with their sexuality at all.