Another one sparked by writing the Escapist reading post, except that this isn’t really a single series but a book universe, spread across three series. I’ve written about various bits of the series a few times but as I finished the last book in the Custard Protocol series the other week, now seems like as good a time as any to do a proper post about the whole world. I should say that this post has been quite tricky to write without giving out some fairly major spoilers for all of the series, so if my plot descriptions seem a little less than fulsome, that would be why.
Anyway, the Parasolverse is a steam-punk and supernatural alternative Victorian-era world across three main series and three novella strands. In chronological order the series are Finishing School , Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol, but in publication order the Parasol Protectorate books came first. If you look at the chronology on Gail Carriger’s website, she suggests reading them in chronological order, but says her fans suggest reading in the order that they were written. I read them in basically the order that they were written with a minor blip and for reasons that I will explain later, I am inclined to endorse the latter approach – especially if you are not normally someone who reads Young Adult or school story series.
The four books of the Finishing School series cover the school career of Sophronia Temminnick in the 1850s. It’s a Young Adult series – which the other parts of the universe are… not. At the start of the first book, Etiquette and Espionage, she is the bane of her mother’s existence and is sent off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality to learn how to be a proper lady. Except that she isn’t there long before she realises that the school isn’t so much about manners and polite society as it is about spying and other slightly deadlier pursuits. Over the course of the series Sophronia learns all the skills to embark on a life of espionage and gets tangled up with vampires, werewolves and Evil Geniuses. The Finishing school world has mechanicals and all sorts of clockwork devices that aren’t present in the Parasol Protectorate and part of the fun of the series to me when I first read them was trying to work out what on earth was going to happen to turn a world that had clockwork butlers on tracks into one that very definitely didn’t. Sophronia is the main character, but there are other characters here who you will encounter in the rest of the series or in their own novellas. I read the first two books in this series via NetGalley around the time the third one came out and liked them so much I went off and bought myself Soulless and my obsession took off from there. My review of Ettiquette and Espionage says that it took me a little while to get into because it dumps you straight into the steampunk world without a lot of explanation, and that’s the reason why I suggest that readers start with the Parasol Protectorate series first – unless they are young adults. And I think they do need to be Young Adults for this, because if they are anything like I was when I was little they’ll want to go on and read the other books set in the universe, which are somewhat more adult than a Middle Grade Reader would cope with – even if they’ve made it to the end of the Harry Potter series.
Starting with Soulless, the Parasol Protectorate are the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, the titular Soulless preternatural. For in the world of Vampires and Werewolves – who have an excess of soul which allows them to become immortal – there are also people who have no soul, and whose touch can render the supernatural set mortal again. Alexia is a rare female preternatural. These are set in the 1870s in a world that is recognisable but different from the world of Finishing School. In Soulless Alexia sets out to investigate a number of deaths among the supernatural set, much to the disgust of Conall, Lord Maccon, the werewolf sent to investigate by Queen Victoria. The subsequent books see Alexia dealing with werewolf pack dynamics, the homicidal attentions of London’s vampires, the Knights Templar and the very peculiar situation in Egypt. Alexia is a feisty, forthright heroine who says what she thinks and often leaves a trail of destruction in her wake – in the nicest possible way of course. I think this is the best starting place for the series as it is the clearest introduction into how the Parasolverse works, probably because it was written first so all the world-building is there. I love Alexia and Conalln so much, and as I mentioned in my review of Imprudence, I delayed reading that book because I was so worried about what the blurb of that book meant for them. And you definitely need to read this before you read The Custard Protocol otherwise you’ll be missing out on so very many references.
The Custard Protocol
Set in the 1890s, the Custard Protocol is the adventures of the crew of the Spotted Custard, an airship captained by Prudence Akeldama – known as Rue. I don’t think it’s too much to say that she’s the daughter of Alexia and Conall, because it’s right there in the blurb for it, but even that is a little bit of a spoiler for the previous series. But over the four books, Rue and her motley crew traverse the world trying to fix the British Empire. The Custard Protocol is examining the evolution of the supernatural throughout the Parasolverse, picking up on some hints and suggestions spotted in Timeless at the end of the Parasol Protectorate. And if you’ve read the rest of the series, there are call backs to the other books everywhere. Various members of the crew are linked to characters from both the other series, and by the time you reach the end of the final book, Reticence, the callbacks and references will make your head spin. If the events of Imprudence had me sniffling, Reticence had me in happy tears a few times as everything unravelled. And having finished the series – and it does feel quite final even if Gail Carriger has said she’s not done with the world, I want to go back and read all three series in order again so that I can enjoy the cleverness and interconnectedness of it all all over again.
The Novella series
There are three of them (so far – Supernatural Society, Delightfully Deadly and Claw and Courtship – and this is where Carriger has continued to add to the world. Since the publication of Reticence, there has been another novella added to the collection, and I’m hoping it won’t be the last one, as Carriger has mentioned plans for another in her newsletter. The novellas tell the stories of some of the secondary characters that you want to know what happens to them next, but whose stories don’t fit into the main novels. So far they have covered several of Sophronia’s school friends (Delightfully Deadly), members of the werewolf pack (Claw and Courtship) and popular queer characters from across the series (Supernatural Society). I’ve enjoyed them all – because I love the world and always want to know what happened next or how my favourites got their happily ever afters – but they are not the place to start the series – they are not the way into the world, they’re an extension of it for people who already know and love it.
If you want to read some of my other posts about the Parasolverse, there are Book of the Week posts for Timeless, Prudence, Imprudence and Manners and Mutiny, as well as mentions for the series in 2014 Discoveries, YA Roundup and 2015 favourites as well. In terms of getting your hands on them, they’re all available on ebook and my library’s e collection holds all of the Parasol Protectorate, three of the Custard Protocol and a couple of the novellas as ebooks and more of them as audiobooks. I don’t know what joy you’ll have getting the novels from bookshops, and they’re all shut at the moment anyway so the best I can do is say that Foyles has pretty much all of them available to order. There are Manga editions of the first three Parasol Books (which are very pretty) but they seem harder to get. And the audiobooks are available from audible – some of them exclusively there. And as I own a fair few of them too I can vouch for them being good as audiobooks too, even if the first one does have a mispronunciation that really grates…
Anyway, Happy Reading!
As a bonus, here is the complete Carriger shelf – you may have noticed not all of them match *exactly* and it drives me mad. One day I will sort it. If it is sortable. Ditto the differences in the covers of the Finishing school books in the collage – my ebook set was already a mix of proofs and UK versions, but the UK version of the first one has her head cut off and it looked weirder to be missing a head than to have the bottoms not right! Anyway, it seemed in keeping because look at this: