The last Parasol Protectorate book, Heartless, bugged me because of its snobbish attitudes towards the middle class. I was very pleased to see that this was not quite such an issue here, mostly because there is little real interaction with the middle classes. So that was one problem cleared up.
This review contains spoilers for the first four books, but NOT this one.
Timeless opens with a delightfully domestic scene: Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon dressing for the theatre (to the latter’s disgust) when they are summoned… to the bathroom. Where chaos is ensuing, because their toddler daughter Prudence really, really doesn’t want a bath. And while bathing a toddler can be a trying time under ordinary circumstances, when said toddler steals vampirism and werewolfism from those individuals with a single touch and she is being bathed by vampires… well. Potential disaster for those involved, hilarity for onlookers.
This is the reader’s introduction to the new life Alexia finds herself with, since the end of Heartless saw the birth of said daughter. For most of that book, Alexia was heavily pregnant but did not generally allow that state to get in the way of adventures and potentially risky undertakings. Having had her daughter frees Alexia somewhat to go back to her old life with even less worry, especially since Prudence has officially been adopted by the outrageously dressed Lord Akeldama (confidant, vampire, fashion guru). Alexia is a devoted and caring mother, and also a working mother. She can manage to balance motherhood and work fairly well because of her privileged position in terms of wealth and what essentially amounts to a very large, devoted, extended family who are willing to do much of the routine stuff. There is little explicitly said about how this affects Alexia (or Prudence), and the only other mother in the book with toddlers also has enough money to afford a nanny, so the realities of life for working mothers is left uninterrogated. This is also, I think, a factor of the book’s setting in Victorian London, where this was the norm for moneyed mothers, even those who did not undertake paid work. So while it was good to see a mother being able to act as a human being, apart from her child but still with the child making a fundamental change to her life, it would have been nice to see a bit more reflection on that situation. (Perhaps that was too much to want in what is intended as a romp.) While this aspect was a little underdone to my tastes, the very fact that there was any discussion of the impact of fatherhood on Lord Maccon was very welcome indeed. Although it had been revealed in an earlier book that he was already a father, we see here how he feels about a toddler – and the answer is very positive. Devoted, in fact, and willing to be directly involved in her life and upbringing. His distress at being unable to hold Prudence whenever he likes, because of her ability to turn him mortal and herself therefore into a werewolf cub, is subtly but clearly painted, and is one of the nicest domestic aspects of the whole book.
Domesticity is therefore a consistently present theme throughout the book, and how to balance it with undertaking potentially life-endangering missions for pack, queen and country. The action, though, is driven by a summons Alexia receives from the vampire queen of Alexandria, requiring her to present herself and Prudence before her. This necessitates some sort of cover to allow them to travel without suspicion to Egypt, and the gaining of that cover is definitely the funniest part of the entire narrative. Capers is Egypt unfold as expected, which is to say unexpectedly, and involve boats, balloons, and donkeys.
More than any other of the Parasol Protectorate novels, this one features a substantial sub-plot, involving Maccon’s great-great-great-granddaugher, Sidheag Maccon, the Lady Kingair. It also ends up involving Biffy, Akeldama’s former acolyte turned reluctant werewolf. His particular journey is one of the most interesting across the novels, I think, because many of the other immortals have either been that way for a very long time or were desperately hoping to become one. Biffy, though, is now cut off from most everything he loved in his former life – starting with Akeldama and descending, oh my, to the fact that he just can’t keep his hair neat any more. While this latter issue may seem incredibly superficial, as does his fastidious attention to fashion, it reflects his attempts to integrate his original life with his new one, so the compromises he makes are actually quite significant. Plus, awesome dress sense.
Also, there are a lot of frocks. And cravats, and hats. Ivy features, and she has a lot of hats. Some of them have feathers.