Soulless (2009) and Changeless (2010) - Gail Carriger

These two books, Soulless and Changeless, are the first two in what appears to be an open-ended series, the Alexia Tarrabotti novels, or the "Parasol Protectorate." They are a mish-mash of Steampunk, nearly-sparkly Vampires and not-quite-brooding werewolves. I must say, at the outset, I enjoyed them rather more than I felt I ought.

As I say, the setting takes as its jumping off point, a Victorian steampunk world, and then postulates that one of the reasons for the preeminence of the British Empire is the fact that King Henry VIII embraced the supernatural, incorporating vampires and werewolves into British society. Werewolves often serve in the military, vampires are high-society hosts, and so forth. This conceit of Miss Carriger's works well and helps to elevate the book above the glut of vampire and werewolf fiction.

The other aspect of the books which turns reading them from simple guilt into guilty or not-so-guilty pleasure is the sense of humour. One pull quote compares her wit to that of Austen and Wodehouse. While I would not go quite that far, after all, P.G. Wodehouse is one of the great stylists of the English language, Miss Carriger does bring a witty touch to her writing. Our heroine, Alexia Tarrabotti, has a best friend naturally, named Ivy Hisselpenny. Her half-sisters are the Misses Loontwill. If those names do not strike you as at least slightly amusing, then perhaps these books are not for you.

Miss Carriger also has put some thought into her setting, both the steampunk and the supernatural, which makes it internally consistent. Some of the touches that she has added to the well trodden ground of vampire-and-werewolf are quite innovative, and are fully integrated into the larger world of the books.

The drawback to the books, and call me a prude if you must, lies in the extended and somewhat indelicate interludes between Alexia and her eventual husband, the werewolf Earl of Woolsey. The problem is not simply one of taste, I'm afraid. The books have a somewhat affected style, which mocks ever so slightly, but in a loving way, Victorian literature and mores. The more overt erotic passages are, as a result, a bit jarring, since their tone does not quite fit with the rest of the narrative.

However, that is a minor quibble. The books are a great deal of fun, and I enjoyed the first two immensely, although a tendency toward cliff-hangerism is becoming more pronounced. There are four books in the series to date, and although I have not yet read books three and four, I fully intend to, and if you are looking for a ripping yarn, some clever wordplay, and a nicely executed twist on the standard tropes of fang and claw, perhaps you should, too.

Overall Grade: B to B+

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