Full disclosure: I received this e-ARC from the author herself. However, my opinions are my own.
4.5 out of 5
Imogene Hale is a village girl who takes a job at Woolsey Castle with the vampire hive to escape her going nowhere life and to hopefully explore her ‘perverse’ inclinations. As a parlourmaid for vampires, everything is all dull and dusting until she meets the brilliant and dashing inventor Genevieve LeFoux. Sparks fly, romance ensues, vampires and werewolves interfere.
I was SUPER excited to read this book. I had never read an f/f romance. Partly a) because they are less common than hetero romances, so they are less easy to stumble across, b) I’m not queer and my first inclination in reading romance hasn’t been to seek out f/f romance stories, c) I like fantasy romance, so I want adventure, action, and dirigibles in the romances I read (probably thanks to my entry into the genre via Carriger’s work), which so far has not led me to many f/f romantic stories. This means that I am not very aware of f/f romance tropes and plot lines, though I’m sure Carriger is aware and made conscious use of those. I can say that Carriger has avoided any women in refrigerators (ice boxes?) and has given two queer women a happily ever after together.
I was also really glad to see an f/f romance as the first of these Supernatural Society LGBTQ romances, because I am always a little sad that the supernatural creatures in popular fiction tend to be male, so this series of fantasy novellas could have leaned heavily on the male romances. It may still be focused primarily on m/m relationships, but I am happy having an f/f romance front and center as the starting block for this set of novellas.
In terms of the story itself, I found the beginning a little slow and place-less, not feeling necessarily set in the Parasolverse. It did shift into Parasol-focus not far into the story, but I wasn’t quite sure if Imogene was supposed to have a local accent or any good visual on her life before Woolsey Castle. Once we did get going in the story, however, I was happily back with that world of parasols, tea, and top hats. I really liked Imogene and I especially liked her as the sole narrator. While I would love to read something from Genevieve’s pov, I think Imogene, as a quiet girl, would have faded too much on the page if we weren’t in her head. As a self-identified introvert myself, I love to see fictional females who are not loud and hypersocial, and to see her as the heroine and as a sexual creature was wonderful. And math! Who doesn’t love seeing women rocking it with STEM! I thought Carriger did that really well to help balance out the huge difference in power between Imogene and Genevieve.
The tone of this book is certainly different to that of the almost exclusively lighthearted Soulless. I found the assaults by one of the footman to be very believable and uncomfortable (in the right way), especially in the context of historical treatment of queer women. The vampires here are properly scary as well, perhaps fitting with the different class and station of our main character. Imogene reminded me that most of the point-of-view characters we’ve seen in the Parasolverse have been those with money, those protected by society. Without power, position, or connections, the world is an understandably scarier place, even before you add in vampires. And Countess Nadasdy certainly proved her vileness in a way that I hadn’t feared when Alexia had gone to see her. (Also, impt to note the example that attempted rape can have a female perpetrator.)
To me, this tone fits with that of Poison or Protect, the previous romance novella Carriger published this summer from the Delightfully Deadly novella series (the Finishing School girls all grown up). Similarly between the two novellas, the sexy scenes are sweet and mildly shown, rather than explicit. This was quite fine with me in both cases, as Carriger seems to be exploring a lot about sexual personalities and perspectives we (or at least I) don’t often see in romance, which tends to be full of alpha males.
The ending of Romancing the Inventor was sweet and snuggly, and totally is my dream home. I’m so glad that Genevieve and Imogene got their HEA in the face of so much adversity, not to mention the poor historic record of fictional lesbians getting to live happily ever after.
Aside from Akeldama, Genevieve is the most pervasive character in the Parasolverse. We see her on some level in every series (mainly spoken of as a creator of machines and shaper of Quesnel’s personality in the Custard Protocol), so I was really happy to see Genevieve finally meet someone good for her who did reciprocate her feelings.
On the note of character appearances, Alexia’s role was wonderfully Alexia, bossy, bold, and kind-hearted. (I feel a little sad with how Rue–understandably–views her mother in the Custard Protocol.) Oh, oh, and Alexia’s more specifically detailing her own sexuality for us modern readers was perfect. Yes, please for bi-visibility!
Side note: I know this is a book focused on a romance between two women, but can I just bring up Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings? I know he’s a total dickbag sometimes (see: meeting Alexia in Changeless), but I think he might be one of my favorite side characters in this series because of his complexity as both a bag of dicks, and as a person who will give so much of himself to help others. He’s someone that you are glad to have on your side, but you definitely don’t want to have to see them everyday at the dinner table. I’m pretty sure Carriger is setting us up for a Channing short story, but I also liked the gentle friendship he and Imogene had. Lesbian does not equal man hater (unless that man assumes that all women would be better off having met his member). Ironically, Channing is known for being a dick, so the fact that he is friends with quiet Imogene said a lot to me about the two of them as characters.
I am SO ready for “Romancing the Werewolf.” I will definitely keep purchasing these novellas when they are released because they are SO worth it. And I will purchase them in physical form when I can afford it because the characters all deserve to have their happy endings tucked onto the shelf with the rest of the Parasolverse stories. And I HOPE that Channing will be our first entry into the Claw and Courtship series. Ahh, Gail, you are why I have a fondness for werewolf stories.
Also, does anyone else keep typing “Romancing the Inventory”? Ugh, my fingers have a mind of their own! Clearly, this is the romance story my fingers want to write.