Gail Carriger's Heartless is the fourth and penultimate book in the Parasol Protectorate series. It is also one of the very few books I've read recently that made me produce audible sounds of delight and distress. There was no question of whether I would read Heartless, as I pre-ordered it from my local independent bookstore what seems like ages ago. I also ordered a copy for my library's collection, which is currently checked out and has holds on it. Spoilers ahoy if you haven't read the first three books in the series!
Heartless picks up with Lady Alexia Maccon ponderously pregnant and clearly near her due date. She comes to a truce with the vampires, who have been trying to kill her for a book and a half, by arranging to have the baby (presumed to be a soul-stealer, since it is the product of a union between supernatural and preternatural parents) adopted and raised by the flamboyant Lord Akeldama. Before the "infant-inconvenience" arrives, Lord and Lady Maccon take up residence in London (in one of the fashionable vampire's capacious closets) and Alexia becomes embroiled in thwarting a possible threat against the Queen, despite her voracious appetite and difficulty rising from a sitting position. In the course of her sleuthing, Alexia delves into the history of her husband's packs--both Kingair and Woolsey--and unexpectedly learns more about her father, the mysterious Alessandro Tarabotti. After a monstrous and destructive contrivance is loosed on the city, it is up to Alexia to make sure that everything is put right in the end.
Reading Heartless was much like brewing a cup of favorite tea--you know what to expect and end up feeling comforted, relaxed, and ready for more. All of the secondary and tertiary characters that a reader might have missed while Alexia was gallivanting off to Scotland and Italy in the last two books are present and accounted for, including plenty of Professor Lyall and Biffy, a dash of Ivy and Alexia's obnoxious sister Miss Loontwill, Madame Lefoux, the Westminster hive, the werewolves, and of course more of Lord Akeldama than I had ever dreamed I would get. I was so pleased! The strength of the series comes from the characters and their interactions, and Heartless provides many opportunities for the reader to spend quality time with characters grown near and dear.
As ever, it is wonderful to read a book in which there are characters with a range of sexualities and find that their sexual preference is not the defining portion of their character. I appreciate what Carriger has done to incorporate a more generous cross-section of experience into all her books, especially because it's so rare to encounter one queer character in the genres of SF/F and Romance, let alone several . . . let alone in a series set in Victorian England!
I am now awaiting the final installment of the series (Timeless, to be published in March 2012) with a mixture of gleeful anticipation and depression. I don't want it to end! However, I am also looking forward to Carriger's new venture, a finishing school series set in Alexia's world.
My reviews of the other books in the series:
Book Review Index
Dead Mother: In a tangential way, yes.