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In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.
Coming along for the dirigible ride are her French maid (formerly on track for immortality as a vampire drone), her half-sister Felicity (haughty, envious, and sharp-tongued), her best friend Ivy (she of the awful hats), and her husband’s red-headed valet (who is hopelessly in love with the already-engaged Ivy). Also joining them, for mysterious reasons of her own, is a French lady inventor who scandalously dresses in men’s fashions, and whom Lady Maccon suspects of being a spy.
It certainly seems that someone is up to no good. Two attempts are made on Lady Maccon’s life before her airship touches down. Then there’s the fact that a plague of humanization—turning vampires and werewolves into mortals, and exorcising ghosts within a certain radius—has been following the Scots pack around. It’s as though they have somehow picked up an anti-supernatural weapon while campaigning in India or Egypt. But what could it be? Even armed with a military-grade parasol, Lady Maccon has her job cut out for her—especially while someone keeps trying to break into her dispatch bag, ransacking her room, and firing weapons in her direction. It’s enough to put even a strongly-constituted Englishwoman off her haggis!
Like the preceding book Soulless, this book takes a naughtily funny turn in a world of rough-and-tumble werewolves, elegant vampires, slightly mad ghosts, and a daffy alternate history in which the manners of George Eliot’s time were invented to make these denizens of the night acceptable to polite society. Although it has its rough spots (such as describing an accomplishment as a “social coup de grâce“), it makes for an enjoyable diversion. I laughed, I hung on every clue of the mysteries, I guessed one or two surprises ahead of time, and I particularly enjoyed Emily Grey’s audio-book narration. Be advised of Adult Content, not only of the birds-and-bees persuasion; for some of the mysteries come to a ghastly conclusion. One or two of them come to no conclusion at all—for now. A pair of characters find romance together. And in a surprisingly dark ending for this installment, another couple’s happiness comes into doubt—effectively hooking you into the third book, Blameless. How fortunate that I checked the latter out of the library at the same time as this book, so I don’t have to wait to find out what happens next!