This is the fourth book in the Alexia Tarabotti/Maccon series, The Parasol Protectorate. As such there are spoilers for the first three (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless), but there are NO major spoilers for Heartless.
When a ghost turns up in front of Alexia and mentions that there is a plot against the queen’s life, Alexia naturally flings herself into uncovering and halting it. Even if she weren’t muhjah and therefore responsible for such a thing, she could hardly help herself from meddling and being all Miss Marple-y. In the course of her investigations, Alexia must of course deal with the supernatural set – werewolves and vampires mostly – of London, have hair-raising adventures, and drink a great deal of tea. All of this while she is eight months’ pregnant. Oh, and her life is being threatened on a regular basis, too.
Readers of the previous Carriger novels will know, in broad terms, what to expect. Exciting chases, clever detective work, witty repartee, clashes between vampires and werewolves, unexpected twists in the plot. It delivers exactly what you expect from it, and is therefore very satisfying. There is further development of vampire/werewolf society, and a bit more of their collective and individual history; a bit more about preternaturals and Alessandro Tarabotti, too. It doesn’t stand out from Carriger’s other novels, but I wouldn’t have wanted it to. Alexia’s story, while clearly episodic, follows a naturally developing plotline overall – personally, in terms of how she fits into society, and more broadly in terms of how supernaturals fit into and impact on society. That each story feels the same thus makes sense.
I enjoyed the plot of this novel as much as I have previous ones. Just who might be plotting against the queen was revealed what I thought was surprisingly early, but the question of motive was made more suspenseful, and fit in well with the overall themes of the book. The subplots, mostly revolving around the interactions of various characters, was nicely played out; they made sense in the context of those characters as well as furthering our understanding of them. The characters are a large part of what makes this series so endearing. Here, we get an even larger dose of Lord Akeldama than previously (darling), and his fashion sense continues to surprise; his changed relationship with Biffy, once-drone-now-werewolf, is a touching and revealing aspect of the story. There is, sadly, little of Ivy and her daring hats, but a gratifyingly large dose of Professor Lyall.
One of the most intriguing aspects of this story is the fact that Alexis is heavily pregnant for its entirety. Too often in urban fantasy – or any other works, really, except those that are specifically about being pregnant – a woman’s pregnancy is either largely ignored or there’s a nine month slippage in events. Here, though, it’s both integral and not a limiting factor. When Alexia tries to run, she is hampered by her belly. Carriger frequently describes her as waddling, or other such words; she is eating more, sleeping badly, and needing to pee at inconvenient times. She is definitely, genuinely pregnant. But she also does as much as she can around the infant-inconvenience, as she calls it. I don’t have children, and it may be that some mothers will read these sections and shake their heads in ridicule at what Alexis accomplishes so heavily pregnant. For me, it seemed slightly unlikely, but that was forgiven by the fact that a) it’s fantasy, and b) it’s Alexia. I’m happy to be corrected, of course.
Two things are, sadly, beginning to make this series not the wonderful, joyous ride it was to begin with. The first is the snobbery. I understand that it is period-appropriate, and that perhaps it is undertaken with sarcasm or irony in mind. But actually there’s only so much withering scorn that I can put up with when directed towards the middle-classes – those who wear knitwear, or who might be in trade – not to mention the attitude towards servants. This is also a small part of my larger problem with the series… which is Alexia herself. I am beginning to find her tiresome. Her snobbery is a factor; I am also realising that I am nowhere near as interested in fashion as a true Carriger/Alexia devotee needs to be, to not find Alexia’s discussions of and thoughts about clothing a bit tedious. I also don’t think Alexia has developed that much over the course of the series, which means that those quirks that were initially endearing are now become irritating. This is not to say that I am abandoning the series; I am terribly excited to read the final novel, Timeless, when it eventually comes out. But I won’t be sorry (I imagine) that that’s the last novel.
All in all, fans of Carriger’s previous works will not be disappointed – although if you can, I would personally recommend waiting for the fifth book to be published, so that you don’t have to wait however months it is to get the finale.