Series: Parasol Protectorate #4
Published by Hachette, Orbit on July 1, 2011
Also by this author: Etiquette & Espionage, Waistcoats & Weaponry
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?
There is little I love more than a new Parasol Protectorate novel. I fell in love with the series with Gail Carriger’s debut, Soulless, and each installment has improved on its predecessors. I was especially excited to read Heartless because I was expecting the “infant-inconvenience” would make his or her exit from the womb.
Since this may be the first time some of you have encountered the Parasol Protectorate series, here’s a quick primer. There are necessarily some spoilers from the previous three books, but no more than you’d find in a synopsis:
Set in Victorian England, the Parasol Protectorate combines steampunk gadgets with paranormal creatures and extremely English propriety. The series is something of a comedy of manners, centering on Alexia Tarabotti (now Maccon), a rare supernatural being known as a preternatural, because she has no soul. (Vampires, ghosts, and werewolves are accepted parts of society in the series, but preternaturals are still something of a secret from the general public.) Alexia is something of an oddity because she’s extremely blunt and logical (a result of her preternatural status) and because she’s half-Italian, resulting in a scandalously curvy person, along with olive skin and a strong nose. (These features get mentioned quite a bit over the series.) Alexia is also in secret service to Queen Victoria, serving as muhjah on her supernatural advising committee.
Alexia is surrounded by a marvelous group of characters. Her best friend, Ivy, is the definition of a flibbertigibbet, with an obsession with gossip and ridiculous hats. She is also good friends with Madame Lefoux, a French inventor and milliner with a more-than-passing fondness for Alexia. Alexia’s family is less endearing, though they do add a lot of humour to the story. Other mainstays in the series include Lord Akeldama, a vampire with a unique sense of fashion and a hive full of attractive men who help him keep his fingers in all of London’s doings; Professor Lyall, an investigator for BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, the organization policing the supernatural population; her faithful butler, Floote, is one of my favourite characters in the series; and, of course, Connall Maccon, alpha of the Woosley pack of werewolves and Alexia’s husband, who she fell in love with in Soulless. After some bumps along the way, they are quite happy and the birth of their first child is imminent. Of course, children of preternaturals are feared by the rest of the supernatural community so the London vampires are trying to kill Alexia before the birth of her child.
Which brings us back to Heartless…
…which is perhaps my favourite book in the series so far. The writing is top notch, the plot is engrossing, and Alexia is in fine form, managing her various responsibilities and people while battling the effects of her pregnancy, which include the need to eat constantly and the ability to move only at a waddle. She adapts quickly to the idea of Lord Akeldama adopting her baby, to save its life as well as her own, and devises ways to stay nearby. And let me tell you, there was no end to the amusement caused by this storyline!
Alexia also has to deal with a message from a ghost, telling her that someone is attempting to kill the queen. This is the main mystery of the novel and Alexia spends a lot of time and effort, trying to figure out who it could be. This quest takes her into Woosley pack history — areas that some folks don’t want her to investigate — and it was a lot of fun watching Alexia use her various resources and connections to get to the bottom of it. Plus, it lets us learn a lot more about the werewolves in her life, though I don’t want to say who because of spoilers, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
My favourite parts of the book have to be the scenes with Biffy and Lord Akeldama. They’re two of my favourite characters and they both get a nice amount of page time in Heartless. Lord Akeldama is so completely over the top and flamboyant — he’s an absolute delight! Biffy’s in a less happy place since he recently became a werewolf and isn’t adapting well; his scenes are sometimes sad but he’s got a unique role in Gail Carriger’s world and I love that about him.
Heartless draws a lot of its story from previous books so I would recommend starting the Parasol Protectorate from its first book, Soulless. While I think it is completely possible to begin reading with Heartless and not get too lost, you’ll enjoy it so much more if you start from the beginning. If you like Jane Austen-type novels, a tongue-in-cheek tone, and supernatural characters, you’ll *love* the Parasol Protectorate.