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The first of (at present) five books in a series titled “The Parasol Protectorate” introduces a world that combines Victorian-era Steampunk with vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. It’s a romantic comedy of manners with a broad streak of sensuous eroticism, ripe for an Adult Content Advisory. How ripe? Let me tell you. One day on my way to work, while listening to the audio-book expertly narrated by Emily Grey, I had to turn off my car stereo several blocks short of my destination. No more needs to be said. If you know what I mean, you may be mature enough to listen to this book. If so, expect to be tickled, titillated, and taken in by an unorthodox mythology of supernatural and preternatural beings.
Supernatural beings, in Alexia Tarabotti’s England, are not monsters who must hide in darkness. Everyone knows about them, society more or less accepts them, and they even play a shadowy but important role in Queen Victoria’s government. The Bureau of Undead Registry makes sure they follow the rules. Vampires aren’t supposed to prey on unwilling victims. Werewolves aren’t allowed to run wild on full-moon nights. Rather, they must obey either the strict conventions of the hive or pack, or be registered and regulated as rove vampires or lone wolves. They have acolytes and servants to help keep them within bounds, and a high rate of mortality in the process of being “turned” keeps their numbers low. One reason it is so hard to become a werewolf or a vampire is that you have to have an exceptional amount of Soul to survive the Death Bite.
And then there’s Alexia: that very rare person who has no soul at all. She was born that way, inheriting the condition from her Italian-born father. Few people outside the B.U.R. know this; not even Alexia’s family is in on the secret. Being soulless means that Alexia can never become supernatural (a werewolf or vampire), nor is she like the normal, daylight folk. Rather, Alexia is a Preternatural: someone whose very touch neutralizes supernatural abilities. This is why, for example, a vampire who attacks her loses his fangs on contact. In all but hunger, he becomes mortal as soon as she touches him. And when he keeps attacking her over a tea-tray in a private library, Alexia does the only sensible thing: she whacks him over the head with her trusty parasol and stakes him with a wooden hair-stick.
Next thing she knows, Lord Maccon—alpha werewolf of the local pack, and head of the B.U.R.—is on the case, trying to hush up Alexia’s role in the rogue vampire’s death. While he probes the mystery of where all the rove (hiveless) vampires and lone werewolves have gone, and why new ones are suddenly turning up without any accountability to the B.U.R., Alexia pursues her own investigation. Her sources include a flamboyant rove vampire with a network of pretty-boy drones, an interview with the Westminster Hive Queen, and an American scientist whose theories about measuring the human soul are only slightly less hopeless than his crush on Alexia.
For no two people could irritate each other as much as Miss Tarabotti and Lord Maccon without being destined for each other. And as the full moon draws nearer—as a fiendish conspiracy closes in on its goal to undermine the power of supernaturals in British society—as attempted kidnappings, dramatic rescues, werewolf transformations, and scientific mayhem throw them together in various states of partial and total undress—the would-be couple find themselves increasingly often in compromising situations. Amid horrors galore, their passion for each other grows until the whole question of what is going on with the undead is upstaged by the question of whether love, marriage, and social respectability can happen to an old alpha wolf and a late-twenty-something spinster.
Alexia Tarabotti is a heroine who could represent hope for a lot of single people (especially women) who have never been allowed to think of themselves as attractive or “a good catch.” Her adventures continue in the books Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless. Gail Carriger has also authored two other series of novels set in the same supernatural/steampunk universe: the “Finishing School” series (set 25 years earlier), and the upcoming “Parasol Protectorate Abroad” series (set a generation later).