Plugging the Parasol Protectorate

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Hello, readers… I have a few questions for you.

Do you…

…like fantasy?

…like steampunk?

…like romance?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions – and if you have the unfortunate position of being counted among those who have not yet joined Miss Tarabotti on her adventures – then I invite you to read on. I have a book series to recommend that you definitely don’t want to miss out on.

I first learned of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series from friends on Librarything.com (a site you really should check out if you’re a book lover… I prefer it to GoodReads, to be honest) back when the first book was released, and rushed out to get a copy. Yes, rushed.

What’s the appeal?

Here’s the description of book one from Amazon.com:soulless

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

And that’s just the first installment!

In the second (Changeless) – and I don’t want to spoil anything for you if you haven’t read the first book – we’re introduced to even more intriguing characters, including a French inventor and a rather interesting relative of Lord Maccon’s.


In book three (Blameless), the steampunk element becomes even more prevalent, and we’re treated to some very tantalizing tidbits of worldbuilding, in the sense of understanding more about Alexia’s soullessness and what that might mean for – dare I say it – future progeny.


Now, I know this isn’t a proper review post – I haven’t told you what I thought of each book, the strengths, the weaknesses, etc. – but to be quite honest, I’m not sure I care to do a proper review of these books because I loved them so much. And really, I just wanted to write a post to plug them and support what I think is possibly the best new series this year (and the author seems quite lovely to boot).

But I’ll break it down this way: I enjoyed Soulless quite a bit, but didn’t adore it as fully as I might have, due to the excess of romance (though my cousin loved the romance element) that I thought distracted a bit much from the main storyline. I do enjoy romance, don’t get me wrong, but a few scenes were a bit overlong for my taste. But again, my cousin loved those scenes, so I suppose it’s a matter of taste. However, I still rushed to grab Changeless the week it was released. I really enjoyed it as well, though it suffered a bit from a lack of romance where there was an excess in the first book (I’d elaborate here, but I’m afraid I’d have to give spoilers to do so). Still, I drove to the bookstore on release day to get a copy of Blameless, and proceeded to devour it the same day. It was my favorite of the series thus far.

I’m very anxious to read the next book, which isn’t due until next summer (*sob*), but we were definitely spoiled to receive three books in one series in the same year (er… by which I mean, within 12 months; Soulless was released in October 2009).

Also, I should mention that the first novel is really steampunk-lite – there aren’t many steam inventions, and the paranormal element is focused on a bit more than the Victorian surroundings and inventions. However, this picks up with a bang in the following installments.

All told, the character development is fabulous, the surrounding cast is very entertaining (and funny), and the premise is clever. Carriger’s voice is really very different from the majority of paranormal lit you’ll find on the shelves these days, and as a result, I think this is truly the breakout series of 2010.

If you haven’t joined the Parasol Protectorate… you’re missing out! I, for one, have purchased my first teeny-tiny hat in honor of a rekindled interest in steampunkery. And I do love it so. (Though I have yet to acquire a parasol.)

3GailCarrigerCream About the Author: New York Times Bestselling author Gail Carriger began writing in order to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported directly from London. She is fond of teeny tiny hats and tropical fruit.


Writing Compelling Characters

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Today’s post is brought to you as part of Elana Johnson’s ‘The Great Blogging Experiment’ – over 150 people are participating by talking about compelling characters on their blogs, the idea being that each post will be unique, just like the person who wrote it. So, here we go!

(And don’t worry – I’ll continue with my self-editing tips series next week!)

What Makes a Compelling Character?

As simple as I can put it, this is what makes a compelling character for me:

  • Flaws

And there you have it.

Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but here’s what it boils down to when I think about compelling characters, particularly the main characters of books I’ve recently enjoyed – they’re human, through and through (even if they’re not technically a member of the human species… er… you know?).

If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you know that in many of my book reviews, I bring up the issue of flawed vs. perfect main characters. And sometimes I get really irked.

In a certain series by a certain author (which I read earlier this year; you can find the reviews around here somewhere, but I’d rather not name names as what I’m saying isn’t all that flattering), I had difficulty relating to the main character (ie. I hated her) because she was so disgustingly perfect. We’re talking unnaturally sweet & innocent (though I’m sure she’d make a nice friend) to the point where, if I was friends with her, I knew she’d be a doormat in seconds.

It’s not exactly a good thing when a main character is so perfect that you find yourself wanting to bully her just to see how she’d react. There was nothing real about her.

Let’s look at another (good) example:

Alexia Tarabotti from the Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger (and if you haven’t read this series… do it!!! Also, I hope to post a little overview / review of the series tomorrow, come back if you’re interested!) is an example of perhaps one of the most compelling characters I’ve come across lately.

What are some of Alexia’s most compelling features?

  • she has no soul (ah… we start out with what might be considered a rather LARGE flaw)
  • she’s extremely stubborn
  • she has no imagination
  • she has a slight penchant for violence
  • she doesn’t exactly conform to the social mores of the time

And these are characteristics we learn from the back of the book and the first several pages. Sounds interesting, right?

My friends, creating compelling characters is only as difficult as the humanity we’re willing to give them. If the reader can’t relate to your main character, she’s going to put down the book in frustration and walk away. No one wants to read about the perfect person who never has any problems and for whom life’s a shiny double rainbow.

But as you create, don’t just throw in things like “she has bad acne” or “he’s reclusive” for no reason. Flaws need meaning and logic behind them.

Consider the world around you: People don’t have issues just for the sake of having issues (okay, maybe some people do, but hopefully they’re the exceptions).

Things like:

  • Upbringing
  • Birth Order
  • Past Relationships
  • Self-Image (usually tied in with the above)
  • Past Experiences
  • Environment
  • Belief System

…shape all of us. Use these, mine these, and find those areas that make you go “hmm” and which present clear areas in which to find those issues, flaws, and little character quirks that make each of us – every single human – different and unique. Real. Imperfect. Flawed. Fascinating.

How do you create compelling characters?

Make them real. And then use those flaws in a way that propels the story forward, because each person will react to others and situations in accordance with who they are as a unique individual.

That’s how.