Monday, 14 April 2014

The Parasol Protectorate, a review (Part 1 of 2)

by Claire McDermott

The myths surrounding vampires, werewolves and ghosts have been around for so long, and been repeated so frequently in media, that we take for granted our awareness of certain rules and guidelines that they adhere to. I don't need to tell you that a werewolf changes at a full moon, a vampire thirsts for blood, ghosts can pass through solid objects, and so on and so forth, because it's now steeped into our culture. A few writers and directors will try to veer from the norm, but they often have to reference the original conventions first, to give assistance in our understanding. The knowledge is so deep rooted that we have to force our minds to consider an alternative.

This challenge proved to be no issue for Miss Gail Carriger, American writer and daughter to a Brit, who chose not only to bend and change some of the established laws of supernatural culture, but also to create something entirely new in the process. The Parasol Protectorate series (5 books in total and noted in a previous SUB blog) explores the life of Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a lady from a high society family in late 1800's Victorian London. Her escapades bring her into contact with numerous members of the supernatural set, in part due to her own special nature (more on that later), whilst maintaining the modesty and decorum of her age. In this alternative history, where prevalent scientific discoveries are manifested in a rather steampunk fashion, vampires, werewolves and ghosts are welcomed members of society, with Great Britain and Queen Victoria being very progressive for their time. They still follow many of the expected behaviours that supernatural tradition dictates, but there are some significant changes that as a Christian I find particularly intriguing.

For me one of the most interesting aspects of Carriger's stories is how she explains why the 'undead' still live past their metamorphosis to supernatural state. We believe everyone is born with a soul, and traditional stories would suggest that vampires and their ilk are without soul, whether sacrificed or taken against their will, that their condition is born of an ungodly union or rejection of salvation. Not so in The Parasol Protectorate. Anyone who is able to transform from human to supernatural can only do so if they have excess soul, the overabundance of soul is what keeps them 'alive' in their new state of immortality. This significantly changes how we perceive them, they are no long excluded from heaven, they are just prolonging the journey there. Our protagonist Alexia however is something new. She is what is referred to as Preternatural. She is born with no soul at all, and what is also particular to her condition is that if she touches a vampire or a werewolf, she turns them mortal for the duration that they are in physical contact. With ghosts, if she touches their original body, they vanish, never to be seen again. Many of the characters still follow the recognised patterns of supernatural behaviour, but with the change to the application of soul, and with the introduction of the Soulless main character we see a very different attitude towards these creatures.

Return next week for my final thoughts on the book and its subject matter...

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