If you are a fan of Gail Carriger, all I need to tell you is that the second book in her Custard Protocol series (yes, that really is the name of the series, and it makes sense in context), Imprudence, has been released, and you’ll be rushing to put it on hold or take it out and devour it in a couple of gulps (that’s what I did).
If, however, you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of the bizarre and wonderful characters in Gail Carriger’s world, then (a) you don’t know what you’re missing (but I’ll work on that), and (b) you really shouldn’t introduce yourself to that world with this book. You could probably manage, but you would be so confused trying to figure out who’s related to whom and how and who’s a vampire and who’s a werewolf and what are these preternaturals and metanaturals anyway that you wouldn’t have the energy to enjoy the fun of the book.
No, the place to start if you want to figure out what these series are all about is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate (the first series), Soulless. In that book we are introduced to Alexia Tarabotti, a Victorian spinster of a certain age who is not taking any nonsense from anyone, as we discover in the very first chapter. She’s attacked by a vampire at a formal party and, rather than freaking out about it, she whacks the creature with her parasol, telling him that he’s a fool to try to attack someone like her. Not, as it turns out, because she is a woman of such character that she could defeat any vampires with the force of her personality (though she might be able to do that, too), but because she is a preternatural: a person who has no soul, and who is, therefore, capable of turning various supernatural creatures, like vampires and werewolves, mortal by a touch. She accidentally kills the vampire in question and then is investigated by Lord Conall Macoun, a Scottish werewolf (the alpha of his pack) and an agent of Queen Victoria’s BUR (Bureau for Unnatural Registration, the means by which Queen Victoria’s government keeps track of werewolves and vampires and other unnatural types, as well as keeping them in line). As other vampires turn up dead, she becomes a prime suspect, and needs to find out what’s really going on as well as maintaining proper Ladylike behavior. She is helped in her endeavors by some pretty impressive characters, including (my personal favorite) Ivy Hisselpenny, a somewhat daffy young woman who wears the most amazing hats (even for Victorians), lovingly described by Carriger and disapprovingly observed by Alexia, and Lord Akeldama, a fabulous vampire surrounded by handsome young male assistants.
The series is a rare and delightful blend of supernatural hijinks, alternate history, steampunk-type technology, romance and speculative fiction. The fun of the books turns on the characters themselves, starting with the indomitable Alexia, the gruff and irascible (with a heart of gold, of course) Macoun, the sly and sophisticated Akeldama, and the wonderfully ditzy Ivy (and her hats!), and the way they interact with each other amid the intricacies of shapechanging in Carriger’s world (the question of what the presence of soul has to do with whether someone can shift or become a vampire, for instance, is novel in the extreme), all spiced with Carriger’s dry but funny sense of humor. How can you not love it when Alexia’s major mechanical defense against the bad guys is a series of parasols (all very proper and Victorian) which spray acid and shoot darts and the like?
Read through the first series, Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless and Timeless, as the characters marry and change and don’t change and find their new places in the wide world of the British Empire, and then you’ll be ready to follow the next generation, Prudence, a/k/a Pru (daughter of Alexia and Macoun and a metanatural with the power to take on the supernatural abilities of anyone she touches), and Ivy’s twin children, Primrose (a/k/a Prim) and Percival (a/k/a Percy), as Prudence, raised by vampires AND werewolves, acquires a dirigible and starts traveling to the distant corners of the Empire — India in Prudence and Egypt in Imprudence. Along the way, she discovers some other kinds of shape-changing creatures and gets in all kinds of trouble, romantic and otherwise, and she is an entertaining character to share these adventures with (a different kind of entertaining point of view character than Alexia, her mother).
If you like steampunk, if you have an offbeat sense of humor, if you enjoy alternate history novels with speculative fiction elements, if you’ve been looking for adventures that involve vivid and strong female and male characters, by all means pick up Gail Carriger’s books, in both series. You’ll find a lot to love.