Salutations, mesdames et messieurs! Yeah, I’ve committed the faux pas of mixing languages… or is that metaphors you’re not supposed to mix? I’m still in the midst of a Thanksgiving food coma. Probably because I made a sandwich as big as my face for lunch, jam-packed with pretty much the entire table’s worth of leftovers. Other people spend the day shopping, I spend the day elbow deep in more food, pots of tea, and a good book. Thanksgiving is never particularly relaxing for me given the amount of cooking and baking I do, so it’s always the day after that turns into my version of a spa day.
I don’t like spas. They’re full of people who insist on touching me. I can never really relax in those situations. A book and some tea, on the other hand? Those are heaven.
When I need a day to myself, I always choose my books with care. They have to be fun, light, and easy. Typically, they have to make me laugh and possess a certain irreverence. Christopher Moore features a lot on my Tea and Book Days, as well as Jane Austen. Yes, Jane Austen is fun, light, and easy. And she very often makes me laugh. But today, I was inspired to read something else. Probably because I’d just finished the prequel series and wanted to pore through this one for details I might have missed. Yes, I find stuff like that relaxing. I’m a trained historian; we love searching for clues in texts. Just ask anyone.
So…given that most of you have likely read the title of today’s post, this is totally an unnecessary question, but what was this series of fun, light, and easy books that make me laugh? Well, it’s The Parasol Protectorate, by the delightful Gail Carriger. It really, really works with the tea.
Let’s get through the necessary details first. The series consists of five books: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless. I only managed to get through the first two today because, alas, animals seem to believe they should be fed and played with at various intervals. Who knew, right? But I heartily recommend reading the whole thing, so the whole series gets the nod today. Anyway, let’s get going. I really am meandering here, aren’t I? Eh. Y’all should be used to that with me. I’ve always meandered.
The series is a Steampunk paranormal romance. Hey! Come back! Not every paranormal romance is like Twilight, guys. Yes… there are vampires and werewolves in this. What has that to do with anything? Listen. The problem with that series is not its premise, but its execution. And believe me when I say that Gail Carriger leaves whatsherface in the dust. In fact, I do actually know Ms. Meyer’s name, I just didn’t want them in the same sentence. Lesson for you writers out there: sometimes just having the right subject matter is all you need to succeed. Anyway, yes, there are vampires and werewolves, as well as a certain amount of romance. But that’s where the similarities end.
I’d say that this series counts as Steampunk-lite. It’s certainly not as sci-fi heavy as some of the other stories I’ve read in the same genre, for which I am actually pleased. Sometimes these stories lose themselves in the science a bit too much for me; this one manages to keep a light touch without going so far as to add some clockwork and call it a day. (*sings* “Just put some gears on it and call it Steampunk…”) Set in an alternate Victorian England, the series is premised upon the idea that souls are a quantifiable thing (though how to test it remains something of a mystery). The main character, Miss Alexia Tarabotti, does not have one. A soul, that is. As such, the powers of the various supernatural sets, which have been accepted into British society for many years now, do not work on her. This, combined with her being half-Italian (let’s not forget the…uh… superiority complex of the English) and rather more intellectually-minded than most women, presents her some problems. But they also make her uniquely able to solve them. And, over the five books of the series, she and her pack (hardy har har) work together to deal with various… interruptions to both domestic and national security.
Seriously, guys. This series is so fun. From the witty prose to the delightful characters, I love everything about it. There’s an outrageous vampire (italics completely necessary), a Scottish Alpha (whose name has been #1 on my list of boys’ names for almost ten years now, so perhaps I have an irrational love, but probably not because I adore many other characters just like him), a French woman dressed better than everyone reading right now, an English woman whose hats could replace Medusa’s gaze, and cephalopods. Quite a few of them, actually. Of course, the winner for me is Alexia herself (forgive the use of her Christian name, my fine readers). I love her no-nonsense bluntness. I love that she treats manners as a code of moral conduct, believing that morality is a product of the soul. Most of all, I love that her often autocratic behavior is really just a cover for sensitivity and a need to have the control over her world that the circumstances of her birth often denied her. Emotions seem to confuse her somewhat, or at least to be somewhat embarrassing (but that might just be because she’s Victorian–some of them wouldn’t even use the word trousers), and it’s great to throw the whole “women are the emotional ones” stereotype on its head. Really, it’s the werewolves that are the touchy-feely types. But, hey… that’s Pack for you.
There’s a lot of really unique world-building here, too. The way Ms. Carriger deals with vampire and werewolf lore is really cool. And a lot of the Steampunk comes from defunct scientific ideas, which it’s clear were really well researched and deployed. Listen, folks… I love good world-building. It’s my favorite part of writing. So when I say this is good world-building, it’s damn good. I’m notoriously critical of such things, to the point that I can’t even begin writing a story until I’ve figured out how the world works in my head. I’ve put books down and never finished them because of bad world-building; these books, I’ve read at least a dozen times.
Now, I’ve noticed something with this series that isn’t necessarily true with the others we’ve featured. People either really, really like it (like me) or they do not. It’s the writing style, I think. We’ve all grown accustomed to a far more streamlined, direct style of prose; in fact, we’re constantly being told to apply the Coco Chanel method of word choice. (You know… take one accessory off before leaving the house?) Ms. Carriger laughs maniacally in the face of such advice, and I adore her for it. Not every word is necessary, except to the voice of the writer and the style of the story. Which, in my mind, is absolutely necessary. But I have noticed that some people find it far too distracting, and it really is just a matter of taste. It’s been long enough since the first book was released that it’s in most of the libraries and second-hand shops; if you don’t like the writing style, just know the series isn’t for you.
OK, I’ve rambled enough. Let’s get on to the drinks. What am I going to recommend today? Weeeelll (*insert David Tennant here*), I’ve got three ideas. One of which is tea. Yes, tea. What? Do you know what tea means to the British? They think it’d bring about world peace if everyone would just give it a try. “Oh, your house has burned down? Here, have a cuppa.” I do not exaggerate. It’s not as ritualized as the Japanese tea ceremony, but it’s just as much a ritual. Anyway, choose whatever tea you would like. I’m partial to roiboos teas and Earl Grey, but I shan’t dream of imposing my style on you.
As for my other recommendations. I might have mentioned a certain rococo-loving vampire earlier in this blog. If you find yourself on Team Hive (or rove or drone), I recommend Champagne. It’s up to you whether you want to put a couple drops of something red in, or not. If you absolutely must, use one of the cheaper alternatives, but don’t you dare let Lord Akeldama know about your choice… though he’ll probably know and be critical by your decision no matter what you do, so maybe just be ballsy and he might admire your style.
If, like me, you find yourself more inclined to the Packs (or loners or clavigers), I’m recommending a good moonshine. Why? Well, it’s called moonshine for one, and I think that reason should be totally obvious. The other reason is that, short of formaldehyde, werewolves do not get drunk, so I was thinking we get the closest thing and toss barely-digestible liquor down our throats. If you’re as enamored of a certain Scottish gentlemen (term used…somewhat loosely) as I am, try peatreek, which is a Scottish version of moonshine created by using malted barley that has been dried using a peat fire. I believe there’s a brand called Peat Reek that is actually legal. If not, any moonshine will do.
So…that is it for me today. This one was particularly rambly, no? I think it’s the Final-Days-of-NaNoWriMo fever, forcing me to throw in extra words to meet the 50k goal. Anyway, I’ll be back on Sunday for your weekly dose of silly. Tomorrow, A gives you some Shakespeare. Or perhaps something completely different. (No, not Monty Python.) Until Sunday!
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