Heartless by Gail Carriger
Heartless (The Parasol Protectorate)
Over time, I’ve grown a little more tolerant of steampunk. I think my real objection to it (such as that objection was) stemmed from the fact that, for a while, steampunk was the bandwagon on which everyone was jumping. I’ve since had the opportunity to read some steampunk and have enjoyed it. In fact, one of the first novels with steampunk aspects that I read was Gail Carriger’s Soulless, first in the Parasol Protectorate series. I liked its humor and wit, and the newest volume, Heartless, continues that trend.
Lady Alexia Maccon is quite tired of the vampire hives’s attempts to kill her and her unborn child. Fearful of what the baby might turn out to be, they’d rather see it eliminated. At eight months pregnant, Alexia finds this rather a bother. But she’s distracted from her personal woes by the appearance of a ghost that passes on some garbled information about a threat to the life of the queen.
As she investigates the matter, she finds connections to her husband’s former werewolf pack, and to that pack’s attempted assassination of Queen Victoria twenty years previous. As always, other things crop up that threaten to derail her inquiries, not the least of which is the inconvenience of her pregnancy. On top of that, her sister Felicity has taken up the cause of women’s suffrage, and her good friend Madame Lefoux is acting strangely. It’s almost more than one soulless can handle!
It’s been a real treat to watch this series unfold, and to watch the author’s skill unfold as well. Initially, I felt that the series’ first book had promise, but that it also had some challenges to overcome. I’m happy to report that Carriger has graduated to being a seasoned writer with a firm grasp of plot, characterization and dialogue.
The characters are especially important at this juncture, as Heartless is the next to last Parasol Protectorate novel. Wisely, the author doesn’t introduce any new characters, but instead focuses on the ones that she’s been working with since the beginning. The relationships among these people have been growing and changing throughout the story, and that’s never more evident than in this novel. The groundwork laid in previous books bears fruit in this one, and in a big way.
Of course, all the interesting characters in the world can’t save a weak plot, but Carriger excels here as well. An event that was hinted at before—Lord Maccon’s previous pack’s assassination attempt on Queen Victoria—is at last explored as Alexia delves into a possible connection with the ghost’s warning. This also turns into a clever vehicle to dig into the character of the enigmatic Professor Lyall, the pack’s Beta. The plot contains several satisfying twists and turns that kept me eagerly turning pages.
Carriger’s humor is strongly represented in Heartless. Several times, I stopped to read passages aloud to my husband, because I knew they would make him laugh. This series is one that makes me want to take time out to write down whole exchanges of dialogue, because they’re so clever. And that’s what I appreciate about the author’s humor—it’s clever and fresh, and it fits right in with the novel’s tone. Alexia is a sharp-tongued lady, and the brand of humor that pervades the book is a match for her.
I was impatient to get my hands on Heartless, and my excitement wasn’t misplaced. This novel is filled with snappy dialogue, interesting characters, and more plot than you can shake a parasol at. If you haven’t been following this series, you’re missing a rare opportunity to be entertained on multiple levels.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 7, 2011.