Friday, September 28, 2012

Review: Heartless by Gail Carriger

Heartless (Parasol Protectorate #4)
By: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit

About the book:

Lady Alexia Maccon, soulless, is at it again, only this time the trouble is not her fault. When a mad ghost threatens the queen, Alexia is on the case, following a trail that leads her deep into her husband's past. Top that off with a sister who has joined the suffragette movement (shocking!), Madame Lefoux's latest mechanical invention, and a plague of zombie porcupines and Alexia barely has time to remember she happens to be eight months pregnant.

Will Alexia manage to determine who is trying to kill Queen Victoria before it is too late? Is it the vampires again or is there a traitor lurking about in wolf's clothing? And what, exactly, has taken up residence in Lord Akeldama's second best closet?


Roughly six months have passed since Alexia's "disagreement" with her husband, Conall, over their forthcoming child's paternity saw her decamp to the continent, encounter dangerous Templars hoping to control her preternatural ability, and comes ever-closer to understanding her past and what the future holds for the impossible child she carries within her. While the series' preceding volume, Blameless, faltered a bit due to Alexia's lengthy separation from Conall, with the Maccons reconciled Heartless is a fine return to form for Carriger's delightfully quirky realization of Victorian London and its supernatural (and soulless) denizens. With the birth of her child a month away and the impact of a human, albeit preternatural, mother and an immortal werewolf father still uncertain, Alexia learns that in order to guarantee her child's safety she must do the unthinkable and give them up for adoption before they are even born. It is commonly held that Alexia will give birth to a soul-stealer/skin-stalker -- one who can absorb and discard supernatural abilities at will. The Maccons and the lives of their pack are thrown into turmoil preparing for the birth, but an even more pressing matter intrudes -- a ghost, near-poltergeist state, who arrives with the news that there is a plot afoot to assassinate the queen. Ever-practical and never one to let a little thing like eight months' pregnancy stop her, Alexia sets out to uncover the threat and in the process is thrust into a web of conflicting loyalties and painful history. Some secrets are perhaps best kept hidden...

Heartless is perhaps my favorite novel in the Parasol Protectorate series to date, and that is saying something since I've essentially inhaled nothing but this series since I first discovered Soulless. This series is not without its share of issues (stylistically or content-wise), but those are overcome by the spirit of sheer fun Carriger infuses in every aspect of her world-building and her characters. Alexia's adventures are as over-the-top and decadent as Lord Akeldama's best waistcoat, but Carriger's irrepressible sense of humor and genuine affection for even the most light-weight dandy that peoples this world is hard to resist. As such, Heartless is one of the strongest novels in the series, balancing Carriger's trademark humor and sarcasm with just the right amount of peril and fascinating revelations about the history of beloved characters.

Now that all is right in Alexia and Conall's relationship (meaning they are back to their loveably quarrelsome, affectionate selves), Carriger explores the genuine affection the pair feels for each other, the warmth, humor, and -- dare I say it? -- maturity that has come to define their relationship as they've survived everything from constant death threats to trust issues. I loved seeing just how much Conall adores his wife (he has a lot to make up for, considering book #3!), and reciprocally just how much the pragmatic Alexia returns his affection. And when the long-awaited "infant inconvenience" finally debuts? The twist concerning her identity and how that promises to impact Alexia and Conall's lives is, quite simply TO DIE FOR. I have yet to read the fifth and final book in this series, but given that revelation I'm eagerly anticipating Carriger's next Parasol Protectorate series.

Secondary characters who were fun and charming in the first book become stars in their own right here. The enigmatic Woolsey Beta, Professor Lyall, has long been a favorite of mine, and while his buttoned-up exterior apparently masks some questionable predilections, I was blown away by the revelations into his past here. Simply put, he broke my heart, and the way in which his past ties into Alexia's was a thoroughly surprising twist that added layers angst to his character and unexpectedly threatens the future of the pack. I also love Biffy, Akeldama's erstwhile drone and one-time favorite, and the fallout from his shocking induction into the Woolsey Pack is wrenching to witness. But Biffy's turmoil unexpectedly brings out the best in Conall, and I loved how his marriage to Alexia has given him fresh empathy as an Alpha (ironic since, as a soulless, Alexia has issues emoting!).

With Heartless, Carriger is poised to conclude the Parasol Protectorate series (watch for the scene where Ivy is "inducted," it's priceless!) on an extraordinarily strong note. Replete from start to finish with her trademark wit and humor, fast-pacing, and outrageously compelling and likable characters, Alexia's fourth volume of adventures hits a series high. Thank goodness I don't have to wait for the release of book five! :)


Rissi said...

Just the covers of this series alone piques my curiosity. :-)

Ruth said...

@Rissi - The publisher did a GREAT job designing the covers for this series IMO. The perfect combination of fun and spunk. :)