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The Rise of the Parasol Protectorate: Gail Carriger's Soulless

Soulless by Gail Carriger features the indomitable Alexia Tarabotti, a woman who is, as the witty ad copy tells us, "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." When Alexia kills the vampire, all sorts of unexpected consequences occur--for example, Queen Victoria sends the "loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf" Lord Maccon to look into the matter. I hate to keep quoting the back cover, but Orbit has done an excellent job with it: "With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is 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?" As you might have guessed by now, Carriger has written a fun cross-genre treat for those who like the novel of manners mixed with both steampunk and supernatural elements. I talked to her recently via email about the novel...

    GailCarrigerSteampunkOutfit-7Soulless I found it interesting that in your novel Europe, and Great Britain in particular, seems more accepting of the supernatural than the United States. Is this a comment on the Victorian era or contemporary times, or...?

Gail Carriger: It's a ruthless vehicle to explain history's greatest mystery: How did one tiny island manage to conquer an empire upon which the sun never set? I decided that the only possible answer was that England openly accepted supernatural creatures, and put them to good use, while other countries continued persecution. This gave Great Britain a leg up dealing with messy little situations like winning major foreign battles or establishing an efficient bureaucracy or convincing the world cricket is a good idea. I don't go much into America in this book, but I envision the States still embroiled in that old west dichotomy of puritanical thought versus adventurous liberty, only with vampires and werewolves taking sides. It also simply more Victorian to take a stance the equivalent of, "Ah yes, vampires, jolly good chaps, excellent fashion sense, always polite, terribly charming at cards, we just won't mention that little neck biting habit." Do you carry a parasol for defense?

Carriger: Sadly, no, I'm an unparalleled wimp. There was once an entirely unsuccessful attempt at karate, wherein I kept fretting about actually having to kick people and trying to convince the class to break for tea. Sometimes, however, I've been seen carrying a parasol for protection against the sun. I know, I know, crazy talk. Besides a parasol, what other weapons should a proper young woman always have at hand?

Gail Carriger: Hair sticks, one of silver and one of wood, are imperative for young ladies who are wary of the supernatural threat. I also recommend a well-packed reticule most efficacious. Never discount sensible well-healed shoes either. I hesitate to mention such a thing it in polite company, but kicking is sometimes necessary. Of course, if one is lucky enough to have the appropriate connections, one might be able to procure something a little more daring a lovely bracelet that emits numbing darts, or perhaps a lady's timepiece that also contains a sleeping draught. There's an awful lot of sex in Soulless. Now that Lord Maccon and Alexia are married, will we be seeing more or less sex in the sequels?

Gail Carriger: More steampunk and less nookie in the next two books, thank goodness. I find it terribly embarrassing to write the nookie scenes. Don't be disappointed now, for I cannot leave it entirely alone, there's still some post-connubial bliss. And, of course, Alexia gets a new love interest, despite the marriage. Or perhaps because of it? Would you rather be a vampire, a werewolf, or a ghost?

Gail Carriger: Werewolf, no question. I've always wanted to be able to change shape, even if I were forced to do it every month. Most of us ladies are quite accustomed to engaging in the emotional equivalent of a monthly shape change already, I suspect it wouldn't be too difficult to adapt to werewolfdom. There are now Alexia paper dolls. What other physical manifestations of the Parasol Protectorate are in store?

Carriger: I have a contest coming up wherein, among other things, winners will get special Parasol Protectorate pins, handmade by RubyBlackbird of Etsy fame. Also you can buy the dress Alexia wears on the cover of the book from Clockwork Couture. I'm intending to make my own version of Alexia's parasol (and secretly hoping others will do the same). The more the merrier if you ask me. I write steampunk here's hoping that means not just fanfic but fan-gadgets! (Would that be fangic?) What are you most proud of about the novel? And is there a serious underlying theme that you hope readers will pick up on?

Carriger: I'm most proud that Soulless has managed to combine so many different subgenres without, so far, really offending anyone. I'd rather Soulless were not taken too seriously. I'm hoping it brings people joy and makes them giggle. I like to think my books are more like a nice cup of tea than a three-course meal. That said, I suspect, whether I like it or not, there are underlying themes. Tolerance, for example, will probably become more and more apparent as the series progresses. Also, I tend to write pragmatic women who are capable in their own right but accomplish things with the help of others. I'm not one for the "solitary tough guy against the universe" plot. Alexia is strong, but a good deal of her strength comes, as the books continue, from her growing band of friends. Thus far, have you been able to get through an interview without the word "steampunk" coming up?

Carriger: Nope. But then, why would I want to?


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Thus far, have you been able to get through an interview without the word "steampunk" coming up?

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