I've always loved the covers for this series, the first three being taken from the Clockwork Couture website (an awesome site for all you steampunk dress up fans) and despite an obvious change in model for this installment, they've still managed to completely embody the genre with the simplest of concepts. Apparently (according to The Steampunk Bible) this genre is specifically called Mannerspunk, clearly a name not thought up by a British person seeing as spunk has a whole different (and stickier) meaning over here. I much preferred Miss Carriger's turn of phrase, this book here is a Comedy of Manners.
Cucumber or Fish Paste?
Lady Alexia Maccon, preternatural, wife to a werewolf Alpha and muhjah to the Queen, is much too busy fighting off vampire assassins and consoling eccentrically dressed french scientists to give much thought to the fact she's heavily pregnant with a child that should never have existed. So when an absent minded ghost warns her the Queen is in danger Alexia waddles on, armed with her trusty parasol, to face off zombie porcupines, lovesick werewolves and her overly demanding sister in order to uncover the dastardly conspirators.
High Noon or High Tea?
Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes!! If you can't tell I am so pleased with this book it's leaking out of my fingers as I type. I had been a little disappointed with Blameless, the last installment (though really the standard was so high to begin with it was still excellent) but thankfully Miss Carriger has pulled it back for the fourth book in this hugely enjoyable series.
As always Lady Alexia Maccon is a joy to follow around as she sticks her pronounced nose into the bad guys' business and always makes sure to do so in the most proper fashion. Throughout all the books I've loved her stout practicality in the face of all things she takes on (and she has survived a lot, not least of all being married to a man who thinks nothing of yelling out orders in the nude and is still completely incapable of tying a proper cravat.) I also adore the fact Alexia completely lacks that silly girl romanticism a lot of Victorian heroines tend to waft about like a lace hankie. Despite the larger then life cast of secondary characters the stories are all about her, she solves the mysteries, she fights off the nasties and she figures her way out the traps usually saving everybody else along the way. She is the unholy love child of Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Mrs Beeton (I'm not sure how this would come about but I'm betting some perv has posted their fanfic somewhere on the internet).
And even more amazing, she spends the entire story on the verge of giving birth! Now I've read books with pregnant characters, watched TV shows and movies with them and they've run the gambit from depressed teenage mistakes to smug glowing earth mothers. But never has a character made being pregnant in life threatening situations look so much fun.
""Oh I can't think." She rubbed at her belly, annoyed at the fuzziness her own brain, the persistent product of lack of sleep, physical discomfort, and hunger. She seemed to spend all her time either eating or dozing - sometimes dozing while eating and, once or twice, eating while dozing. Pregnancy had given her a new window into the human capacity for consumption.
"Oh, blast it, I'm positively starving."
Instantly all three men proffered up comestibles extracted from inner waistcoat pockets. Professor Lyall's offering was a ham sandwich wrapped in brown paper, Lord Maccon's a weather beaten apple, and Lord Akeldama's a small box of turkish delight.
Months of training had seen the entire werewolf household running attendance on an increasingly grumpy Alexia and learning, to a man, that if food was not provided promptly, fur might fly, or worse, Lady Maccon would start to weep. As a result, several of the pack now crinkled as they moved, having desperately stashed snacks about their personage."
In addition to a stellar leading lady the Parasol Protectorate features one of the greatest supporting cast of characters in any series I have read. They grow with each book, revealing hidden pasts and secrets and Heartless was no exception. There are some shocking revelations in this book regarding Alexia's father and a certain member of the ensemble that had me forgetting all about the mornay sauce I was supposed to be whisking (I had to start again!). And as always the scenes between Lord and Lady Maccon are still wonderful to read, this is in fact one of only two series I can think of that hasn't lost it's spark despite the two main characters getting married (the other being, of course, the awesome Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourne) clearly a great feat for any author.
If you have not yet picked up one of Miss Carriger's books, do it now! And do it in this order:
Timeless (out March 2012)
You can thank me later.