This is the second book about Prudence, daughter of Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon of the Parasol Protectorate books. I’m pretty sure you’re only going to like these books (the first is Prudence) if ours already invested in the world and the characters.
This is a very silly book. There are silly amusing events, silly amusing misunderstandings, and very silly characters. I enjoyed it but… it is silly.
This book has a lot more about Alexia and Conall than the first Prudence book did – in fact the first third or so is explicitly about them and their relationship with Rue and what’s happening with them and the consequences for everyone. Then things proceed to be more about Rue and the crew of her ridiculous dirigible The Spotted Custard. The action is mostly well paced and the events follow one another smartly; there’s certainly no time for boredom.
As I said, I enjoyed this book but I would have liked it more if I had a better grasp of who Rue is. Perhaps I’m expecting her to be too much like her mother, which is a failing of other people as Rue has grown up and so I’m embarrassed to admit it. But I found her disconcerting because it feels like she vacillates between ‘I’d rather stay at home and have tea’ and ‘daring adventurer!!’ in a way that’s not particularly convincing. I wonder if this is partly because we see her as a toddler in the last Alexia book, and then in her first book she’s 20 – but there’s little filling-in-of-background, not that much explanation for how she came to be the sort of person she is (with the exception of being accepting of non-heterosexuality). So that was a detraction.
It’s a fun, bubbly read, with the sort of attention to dress and food detail that I’ve come to anticipate from Carriger. Not for the Carriger noob, but a nice light read for those fond enough of the world to want to revisit.
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.
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.