I steamed through the remaining books of The Parasol Protectorate series and then came to a screaching halt when it came time to write the reviews. It’s not because the books aren’t fantastic, its because I’m easily distractable. The series is a fun read. I highly recommend.
Lady Alexia Maccon, neé Tarabotti, is a preternatural living in steampunk Victorian England. Her husband is the Alpha of London’s werewolf pack and the head of the Bureau for Unnatural Registration (BUR), and sits on the Queen’s Shadow Council. In addition to her husband, she has collected a core group of friends and conspirators, all of who are entertaining, but none so much as la Diva Tarabotti. That’s really all you need to know to start the series if you haven’t already.
Alexia is very much a privileged woman of her time. She is not a feminist, nor is she interested in the suffrage movement. As a strong woman who is both titled and the alpha of a wolf pack, she does what she wants anyway. She reminds me of my great aunt who thought feminism was silly because when men told her no, she did what she wanted anyway. I liked my great aunt a lot, but I found her lack of empathy frustrating. I think it’s an interesting choice to make for Alexia. On the one hand, she isn’t sentimental (what with being soulless and all), but on the other hand, women’s suffrage makes practical sense.
Mild spoilers follow.
One of the things that makes these three middle books of the Parasol Protectorate series unique, is that Alexia is pregnant for all three of them, though she does not know it until the end of Changeless. She continues adventuring, meddling, and investigating right up until the moment of delivery. I have never been pregnant, but I understand from my friends who have been that they alternated between being annoyed at having to do all the stuff themselves, and annoyed when people tried to do stuff for them. Pregnant women are capable women, and it’s nice to see that reflected in a series. I also really enjoyed Alexia’s name for her fetus and her growing attachment to her surprise pregnancy.
Changeless – Alexia acquires a new and rather mysterious friend – Genevieve Lefoux, a French inventor and hat maker who dresses in men’s clothing. At Lord Maccon’s request, Madam Lefoux has made a Very Special Parasol for Alexia. The parasol comes in handy because it is more weapon than sun protection, and there are things afoot that put Alexia in danger. The past shapes the present, forcing Lord Maccon, Alexia, and her odd entourage to travel to Scotland. The world we peak at in Soulless fleshes out and Alexia and the reader learn more about her preternatural state.
Werewolves and vampires are well trod territory. Using the reader’s familiarity, Carriger indulges in building character and creating moments of frothy wit that elevate the story.
With Ivy walking backward before them and weaving side to side like an iced tea cake with delusions of shepherding, Lady Maccon and Madame Lefoux managed to get Tunstell to his rooms and bed.
The very frothiness of the novel makes the dark ending all that much more surprising.
Blameless – Things are not looking good for Alexia. She is inexplicably pregnant, her husband has repudiated her, believing that he could not be the father of her child, and she is living with her family again, which is perhaps the worst thing of all. Naturally, things go downhill from there. The vampires are trying to kill her. Her husband’s suspicions become public knowledge leading to a general shunning. With help from the not entirely trustworthy Madam Lefoux and her butler, Alexia flees across Europe trying to outrun the vampires and find out how it’s possible that she is pregnant. This was the book I had the most problem with, but it’s also the one with the most emotional depth. The problem I had was that I knew there would be a reconciliation at the end, and I was not ready for Lord Maccon to be forgiven.
Heartless – I felt like Heartless suffered a bit from being a middle book. A lot of stuff happened, but the main story arc felt a bit clunky to me. Alexia is heavily pregnant and still the target of a vampire death sentence. I haven’t talked about Lord Maccon’s second in command yet, Professor Lyall. Lyall has become one of my favorite characters. Smarter than almost everyone else and entirely loyal to his pack, Lyall is often the problem solver. As it happens, Lyall’s problem solving has also created some problems which are addressed over books 4 and 5. The most impressive thing that struck me about this entry was how well Carriger conveyed the discomfort of late pregnancy.
Timeless – The Infant Inconvenient is now a delightful plot moppet. Prudence’s special abilities make her a particularly entertaining child. Fortunately, she is being raised by a proverbial village. The Parasol Protectorate series wraps up nicely, occasionally surprisingly. But there is plenty of room left in alternate universe steam punk Victorian London for more stories.