Mellifluous has two meanings. The first—having a smooth, rich flow—describes well how Gail Carriger blends supernatural intrigue, historical peculiarity, and amusing romance with wondrous steampunk gadgets. I earlier reviewed another series of Ms Carriger’s which takes place before the Parasol Protectorate, but these are the books that started it all. I was hooked from the first scene in the first book, Soulless, wherein Alexia is accosted by a rogue vampire who knocks over the tea trolley and lands in the treacle tart! Which brings to mind the second meaning of mellifluous—filled with something that sweetens. And Alexia does love her sweets.
Adventure, drama, and intrigue are rarely so much fun, and much of that is due to Alexia’s practical yet mannered outlook on events. Ms Carriger went straight onto my “favorite author” list with that first book, and every book since has just confirmed that place in my heart.
I love that, while more robust than fashionable for a lady of her position and era, Alexia doesn’t start out as a badass. She might have some peculiar friends—and between them, I’m not sure if Ivy Hisselpenny or Lord Akeldama is the more peculiar…though Ivy’s hats might give her the win—but Alexia is an almost typical English young lady (her father was Italian, which is even more embarrassing than being soulless) with an overbearing mother and fatuous sisters. Rather, Alexia becomes a badass by keeping her head and applying any and every advantage she can think of, whether it’s her innate soullessness, her tart tongue, or her parasol.
Speaking of parasol’s, Alexia’s most infamous piece of paraphernalia is one of Madame LeFoux’s inventions. The parasol comes equipped with darts, spikes, lapis lunearis and lapis solaris, a magnetic disruption emitter, hidden pockets…and I’ve forgotten what else.
Just as I’m sure I’ve forgotten most of the wonderful inventions in these books—Alexia’s world is stuffed with mad scientists and their creations. Steam-powered airships, aetherographors that transmit messages written in acid on metal plates, monocular cross-magnification lenses with spectra-modifier attachment (Alexia just calls them “glassicals”), ornithopters, octomatons, a homunculus simularcrum, and at some point there were mechanimal porcupines that shot acid-tipped quills.
Said porcupines were an assassination attempt by the vampire hives. While this might be considered impolite in most circles, vampires have peculiar etiquette. In fact, that was part of Ms Carriger’s inspiration for this world—that all those bizarre Victorian manners, not to mention the fashions, stemmed from the influence of vampires on English society.
Manners and etiquette are etched into a vampire’s being, the only thing keeping them civilized…and sane. The same can be said of the werewolves, at least when it isn’t full moon. Though the werewolves are convinced the fashions are a deliberate hindrance to their shapeshifting (it takes forever to get out of all those layers), Professor LeFoux—Madame LeFoux’s aunt and a ghost—thinks them a deliberate hindrance to mortals being able to run for their lives. Not that most people need to—from the vampires at least—as there are many willing “dinning companions” available. Besides, attacking someone before you’d been properly introduced would be bad manners.
Ms Carriger has a most wonderful talent for endings. Each novel feels complete, has a satisfying and proper end that doesn’t leave one feeling at loose ends. And yet these plot threads are not so tightly tied that there is undue fuss when they come unraveled for the next book. Or the next series. (I’ll later review Prudence, the first book of the Custard Protocol series, which follows the adventures of Alexia’s daughter.)
And the Parasol Protectorate series does end well. Many Mayfly-December romances have an element of the doomed, which is supposed to be part of the romantic allure (I can’t say I’ve ever felt it). But Timeless, the last book in the series, nicely sidesteps that fate, both setting a satisfying conclusion to Alexia’s chronicled adventures and setting up for the eventual Prudence.
There is so much of these books I haven’t even touched on—the characters, the conspiracies, the mythology—partly because this post would become a novella if I tried, but mostly because it would fail to capture the singular enchantment of Ms Carriger’s books and voice. So I hope I’ve told enough to tempt you into reading them for yourself.