Heartless (Parasol Protectorate #4)
Paranormal / Steampunk / Mystery
Towards the end of the book, one of the tertiary characters in Gail Carriger’s Heartless captures all the wonderful qualities of Lady Alexia Maccon, the protagonist of this wonderful series, all in one statement:
“Who else would be standing in the middle of a street on full-moon night with a raging ruddy fire behind her, waving a parasol around?”
The best thing about Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series – and there are many wonderful things about this series – is her domineering leading lady. Even on the occasions when she needs to be rescued, she never backs down and still usually remains a thorn in her enemy’s side until everything returns to her liking. When facing entrapment within a burning warehouse district, only Alexia would think to bust a street lamp and use her parasol to hit a burning coal into a warehouse full of fireworks to alert people of her plight. She is always finding herself in the most ridiculous, unladylike of situations, and she always comes out on top. Alexia Maccon is my hero.
As a preternatural, she can turn any supernatural entity back into a human temporarily through skin-to-skin contact, so of course, she married a giant, uncouth Scottish werewolf, who is Alpha to the only pack of werewolves around London. There is almost always someone trying to kill her, normally a vampire who is threatened by her “soul stealing” ability, and now that she’s pregnant with a werewolf’s child, the attacks have increased. Yet she takes this all in stride and goes about her day as though she isn’t constantly being attacked by mechanical killer insects, exploding teapots and zombie porcupines. Nothing is going to slow her down, not even an eight month pregnant belly (or, in some cases, going into full out labor).
After the adventures of the previous three novels, Alexia has returned home, but all is not well. In order to cease the attempts at murder, Lord and Lady Maccon will have to allow the fabulous Lord Akeldama, a very old vampire, to adopt their unborn child since the other vampires in London feel that a child raised by a preternatural and a werewolf would be damaging to their well-being. Alexia, being strong willed and a soon-to-be mother, demands that she also move in to Lord Akeldama’s house for the first 16 years of her child’s life (though covertly). Crazy plans are drawn up, her husband gets grumpy, Alexia wins and everything seems to be going fine.
When it seems like, maybe the world might leave her alone for five seconds, a batty ghost wanders up through the floor babbling about someone attempting to kill the queen. This starts Alexia on a chase all over London that has her imitating the working class, stealing a dead woman’s things, and setting a new hairmuff trend. Zombie porcupines start attacking and something bad will inevitably happen anywhere an octopus appears. Out of context it all seems ridiculous, but within the framework of Heartless, it all makes perfect sense and things wouldn’t work any other way.
One of Carriger’s best skills, other than her world building and her fantastically colorful characters, is her ability to turn a phrase. With a slight tweak to the vocabulary, a somewhat innocuous common day saying turns into something giggle worthy. Made up words seem real in the context of her world. Describing a werewolf who can’t control his changing as suffering from “premature transfluctuation” showcases her clever word play and her ability to plug in a nonsense word and it make sense, as though transfluctuation is a word you often hear in conversation.
This incredibly stylized form of writing might be an acquired taste, but I find Carriger a clever story teller, using her third person narration to fill in the world she’s created. She is able to explore the thoughts and feelings of Alexia without the limited and often indulgent use of first person narration. Her use of language is a mix of modern and Victorian that allows the story to have the classic feel needed for the time period it’s set in while not ever becoming stuffy like a lot of actual Victorian novels.
From beginning to end, it’s ridiculous. The plot is ridiculous. The characters are ridiculous. But that’s what makes it so much fun. The image of two Victorian dandies tossing an eight month pregnant woman from balcony to balcony is funny. Knowing that, in the end, this waddling, tired, mother-to-be will save the day while almost always irritating her husband is part of the charm. And in the end, Carriger still managed to surprise me. I love when I can’t exactly predict the ending and I love what she chose to do with Alexia’s baby. That should make the fifth and final book even more intriguing.
Without giving away the entire plot, I did have a few issues toward the end of the book. Despite betrayal and the not-so-occasional threat to her and her child’s well-being, Alexia and her husband never seem to be all that angry with the people behind the schemes. Though punishments are doled out in a way and forgiveness is never overtly given, it seemed out of character for Alexia to not have more to say regarding situations as they went down. This is really hard to explain without giving things away…
Another issue I had involved the deus ex machina of Akeldama’s private dirigible. It is never mentioned or hinted at until it conveniently swoops in to save the day. Then it becomes an ever-present feature through the rest of the book. In context, a dirigible is about the only thing that makes sense to get our characters from here to there, but I felt as though it came out of nowhere and perhaps a mention of it would have kept it from feeling a bit jarring upon its first appearance.
Also some of the secondary characters, such as Professor Lyall and Madame Lefoux, seem to go through a personality transplant at times. It would sometimes jolt me out of the story, but I suppose drastic character growth occurs under the situations they find themselves in.
And finally, Lord Akeldama is fabulous, whether he’s wrestling a werewolf or insulting someone with compliments. He needs his own series. And if Biffy shows up on occasion, I wouldn’t be against that.
Colorful characters are even more colorful; more gadgetry and intrigue; ridiculous and just as much fun of a caper as the previous novels