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Friday, November 5, 2010

Gail Carriger: THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE

Author: Gail Carriger
Series: PARASOL PROTECTORATE (HIS, Steampunk)
Ratings: V4; S3; H4
Publisher and Titles: Orbit
     Soulless (2009)
     Changeless (2010)
     Blameless (2010)
     Heartless (2011)
     Timeless (3/2012) (FINAL BOOK)


     This blog entry was updated on 4/12/12 to include a review of the fifth and final  book of the series: Timeless. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and summaries and/or reviews of the first four books: : 

     BOOK 5: Timeless     
     The story opens two years after book 4 ends. Little Prudence Alessandra Maccan Akeldama is a toddler, and she is doted upon by Lord Akeldama (her adopted father) and his drones. (The whole convoluted adoption situation is explained in book 4.) The plot of this book involves the investigation of the murder of Dubh, the Beta of the Scottish werewolf pack, which is Conall's former pack, now run by his belligerent granddaughter. Dubh is shot before he can finish relaying a crucial message to Alexia about something important  that her late father did in Egypt ten years ago. Shortly thereafter, Alexia gets another message about Egyptthis one sent by Matakara, queen of the Alexandria (Egypt) hive, and delivered by Countess Nadasdy, queen of the London hive. The Countess is Alexia's old nemesis and is now living in the mansion that formerly housed Conall's pack. (It's all very complicated; you have to read book 4 to get the details of the housing situation.) Soon, Alexia and Conall are on a steamship to Egypt, accompanied by her BFF Ivy Tunstell, Ivy's husband and twin babies, and the Tunstell's eccentric acting troupe. Alexia is using the actors as camouflage to keep her departure from London from being noticed. (I'm not sure that makes sense at all, but it's the story line.) When the group reaches Alexandria, the visit with the vampire queen doesn't go well, especially when some of her vamps attack Alexia. Then, some thugs try to grab Alexia and one of the babies off the streets in broad daylight. To top things off, someone kidnaps Ivy's baby.

     In an attempt to retrieve the baby, Alexia and Conall jump into a balloon with a mysterious Egyptian man and float up the Nile to Luxor, where the situation falls completely to pieces. Meanwhile, back in London, Lyall andof all peopleBiffy are investigating Dubh's death, and becoming more and more attracted to one another every day. As the conflict is in several climactic scenes, life-changing events occur for most of the characterssome good and some not so good. All of the loose ends about the God-Breaker Plague, which have been left dangling in the past several books, are tied up here. Alexia also learns about some villainous business in which her her father was involved when he was in Egypt shortly before his death

     This book is much better than the last one, with all of the characters in fine form, especially Conall, who is back to his old gruff but intelligent, self. Carriger's witty writing is always a pleasure to read, and, as always, Lord Akeldama's scenes, even though brief in this book, are the highlight of the story. He deserves his own series. Biffy's character is much more fully developed in this book, emerging as an almost heroic character. Biffy has gone through a huge transformation during the series. In the early books, he was one of Lord Akeldama's dandified drones. Then he became a werewolf under dire circumstances. And in this book he steps up to some major challenges that result in even more alterations in his life. Biffy is actually the character who has changed the most throughout the series. To conclude, I'll just say that all in all, this has been a great seriesalways an entertaining read.

      WORLD-BUILDING     
     The series begins in an alternate London in the late 1800s where Alexia Tarabotti is a twenty-six-year-old, freethinking spinster. Her most unusual characteristic is that she has no soul, thus the title of book 1. As a result of her soullessness, Alexia's touch causes supernatural creatures to become human for as long as she keeps touching them, so some supernaturals see her as a threat. In Alexia’s world, England has both a human and a supernatural populace, with werewolves and vampires taking their places alongside humans in high society. The vampires live in "hives" ruled by their queens, and the werewolves live in pack houses ruled by their alphas. 


     Even Queen Victoria is involved in the supernatural world. Although she is human, she has supernaturals among her top advisers. Steam-driven and spring-loaded tools, weapons, and transportation (especially dirigibles) enhance the lives of the characters, including Alexia’s parasol with its abundance of hidden spring-loaded weaponry. This combination of Victorian London and steam technology is known as steampunk—a science fiction subgenre that is defined by its four Gs: goggles, gadgets, gears, and guns.

     Here's how Carriger herself describes the series on the FAQ page of her web site: "Imagine Jane Austen dabbling in science and steam technology. Then imagine P.G. Wodehouse suddenly dropped vampires in the Drones Club. The PARASOL PROTECTORATE books are the resulting progeny."

     BOOKS 1, 2, and 3     
    Soulless focuses on Alexia’s hate-to-love relationship with Lord Conall Maccon, the werewolf who heads up London’s supernatural law enforcement agency, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR). Villains are scientists who want to perform deadly experiments on the supernaturals. In Changeless, Conall and Alexia enjoy their newly married life, but just as they solve a major mystery, a complication develops in their personal relationship that may drive them permanently apart. In Blameless, Alexia takes off for Europe, where she tries to prove her innocence, while Conall has a hard time back in London coping with a life without her.


     BOOK 4: Heartless     
     As Heartless begins, Alexia is nearing the end of her pregnancy, and although she is somewhat clumsy, she's just as active as ever. When she is visited by a ghost who informs her of a plot to kill the queen, Alexia finds clues that lead her to a dark time in Conall's past—a time that neither he nor his pack want to discuss. Meanwhile, the vampires are still trying to kill Alexia, this time because they fear that her baby will become a vampire killer. In the early pages of the book, an extremely weird and disturbing arrangement is worked out to keep the vampires at bay, but it means that Alexia and Conall must take up residence next door to Lord Akeldama. This doesn't go over very well with Conall, but it provides many humorous scenes with the fashionable and fastidious Lord Akeldama and his dandified drones. In the meantime, Madame Lefoux is working on a mysterious new invention but refuses to tell Alexia who commissioned it or what it does. And one more complication: Felicity (Alexia's obnoxious sister) shows up on Alexia's doorstep announcing that her parents have kicked her out of their house because she has joined the suffragette movement. (Oddly, Alexia seems more shocked about Felicity's suffragette leanings than she is about the plot to kill the queen.) As events play out, Alexia learns new facts about her father and discovers the truth about the role that Lyall (the Woolsey pack's Beta) played in the demise of the previous Woolsey alpha.

     As the book ends, an event occurs that will change the Woolsey pack forever, and it seemed all wrong to me. What happened to the strong alpha of the earlier book who stood up for and protected his pack no matter what? And how could Alexia, heretofore a smart woman, make the really poor decision that causes the mess. (I realize that if you haven't read the book you don't know what I'm talking about here, but I'm torn between presenting my feelings about the book while still protecting the integrity of the plot by avoiding spoilers, so I can't reveal any more details. You'll understand after you read the book.) Although the ending neatly, if manipulatively, ties up the threads of the plot, it opens the door to many new adventures related to Alexia's new baby, who (predictably) has a very interesting magical talent.

     I hate to say it, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as the first three, and especially the delightful book 1, Soulless, which is the best of them all. The surfeit of plot lines resulted in a number of convoluted and manipulated events. Towards the end, I was just plowing ahead hoping that the author wouldn't introduce any more complications. Also disappointing is the fact that Alexia's husband, Conall, has deteriorated into a bumbling fool—quite a departure from his gruff but capable character in book 1. Alexia's character has also gone downhill since the early books. Back then, she was as smart as she was independent, but in this book she is reactive and inept, with most of her missteps being blamed on her late-stage pregnancy.

     All in all, I have enjoyed the series so far, with its humorous repartee and sly asides (particularly the charming Lord Akeldama). Alexia is a smart and feisty heroine, and her arrogance only enhances her appeal.  Among the supporting cast of characters, Genevieve Lefoux, with her manly clothing and her air of mystery adds freshness to an already inventive series. Carriger is good about giving the reader enough depth and back story to enhance many of the supporting characters, particularly Floote, Biffy, Lyall, and Channing, although we must wait until book 5 to delve very deeply into Floote's past.

     According to Carriger's web site, she is writing a new series based on Alexia and Conall's daughter, Prudence. The series title is PARASOL PROTECTORATE ABROAD, and the first two books (entitled Prudence, and Imprudence) will be published in 1913 and 1914). Definitely something to look forward to.

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