BooksOfTheMoon

Timeless (Parasol Protectorate, #5)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

There’s a lot going on in the fifth and final book of the Parasol Protectorate series. We have a bit of a time jump since the last one, so that Alexia’s daughter, Prudence, is now a toddler, with the ability to strip a supernatural of their powers and take them for herself, at a touch. Something that plays havoc in a household with a vampire adopted father and a werewolf biological father, and can only be undone by her mother’s preternatural touch. Into this chaotic domesticity comes a summons from Queen Matakara of the Alexandria hive, and reputed to be the oldest living vampire. But before they can set off, a werewolf is attacked and murdered, leaving Alexia to sort it all out.

As I say, there’s a lot going on here. We have two major parallel strands: the investigation into the murder in London, carried out by Professor Lyall and new pack member Biffy, while Alexia’s version of travelling incognito is to take an entire acting troupe with her, led by her best friend Ivy Tunstall! There’s a lot going on in Egypt, and I wish we’d had more time to spend with the Alexandria hive. The intrigue here was all swept up and dealt with far too quickly. I sort of wish that the whole London plot had been abandoned in favour of more here – the idea of the Alexandrian queen being over five thousand years old and the sort of thoughts that such a creature might have deserved to be given more time.

Alas, we didn’t get any of that, in favour of a balloon ride down the Nile, and a bunch of politics going on in London with the Kingair pack (although I did like the quietly blooming romance that went on there). And, of course, in between all the supernatural shenanigans, we’re reminded that the true monster is Man, as Alexia’s sister, Felicity, causes unwarranted mischief, fuelled purely by jealousy. I would have been happier if she’d got what was due to her, although for someone with her mentality, maybe her punishment is just.

I don’t think this is quite the banging end to the series that I’d hoped for, but then I also don’t think the series entirely recovered from the misstep at the end of the second book. Ivy’s ending just left me shaking my head a bit, although I did appreciate Conall’s proposal for saving him from alpha madness towards the end of his life.

All in all, I think I preferred Carriger’s Finishing School series over this one, although that might be because I read them first. Still fun, and I’d still read other work set in the same world.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499871
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2012

Heartless (Parasol Protectorate, #4)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

After a wobbly couple of middle books, this fourth volume of Alexia’s adventures is back on firmer ground. This time, a ghost warns the Maccons of a threat to the queen, which sends Alexia off investigating (including into her husband’s past), while avoiding multiple attempts on her life, due to an ongoing vampiric fear over her baby, and dealing with the tribulations of being eight months pregnant.

The incident where Conall had thrown his wife out has been papered over and quietly forgotten and the two are as much in love as they ever were. I still don’t entirely believe that such a major breach of trust could have been forgiven and forgotten so thoroughly, but I guess that’s love.

This book keeps the sharper Ivy Tunstall that we had in the last one, and we finally have the formal creation of the Parasol Protectorate, even if it’s only as a sort of joke. We also deal with the fallout of Lord Maccon having to have made former drone Biffy into a werewolf and have a somewhat ill and distracted Genevieve, which causes Alexia more than a degree of worry.

There’s a lot of plot to juggle here, which Carriger manages well. Jokes at the expense of the Scots are limited to references to visible knees, although there’s a lot of waddling and other references to Alexia’s infant-inconvenience, as she calls it. Not that it seems to stop her, she gets into an awful physical situations for someone so pregnant.

This was a lot of fun and has set up some interesting changes in the in-world status quo. I look forward to the next, and final, book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356500096
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2011

Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, #3)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 3 stars

Picking up from where Changeless left off, this volume starts with Alexia having basically lost it all – she’s left her husband’s house, after being rejected by him upon finding out she’s pregnant; lost her royal appointment; and is forced to move back in with her family. Said family are all awful human beings (other than her stepfather who has no personality at all, other than hiding behind a newspaper) and she eventually resolves to leave and travel to Italy to find the mysterious Templars, who may be able to prove her innocent. Oh, and the vampires now also want her dead, and her friend Lord Akeldama has disappeared.

There’s a lot going on here, but the core is the relationship between Alexia and Conall. The former pulls together what’s left of her life and relationships, while the latter gets drunk for several weeks to get over himself. Is that supposed to be an attractive quality? And while Alexia starts to forgive him almost immediately, I can’t see how they can possibly go back to having the same relationship as they did before. Surely a vital trust has been breached now? The end of this book would suggest not, and I’m not sure if that makes me think less of Alexia. Or maybe that’s just love; I don’t know.

Beyond the confines of that relationship, we have a travelogue across Europe, in a variety of means of transport, in the company of the delightful Genevieve Lefoux and the mysterious Floote, who first appeared as butler to Alexia’s family, and who appears to be very much more than that. I love the character of Genevieve, so am delighted to spend more time with her, also being one of the few characters who have remained fairly steady throughout the series (so far, at least). Speaking of which, Ivy has a fairly small part here, having eloped at the end of the last book, but she appears to have had yet another personality transplant. She’s much less silly and frivolous than she was in the last book, having been put in charge of Genevieve’s hat shop, while the erstwhile inventor accompanies Alexia. I like this version of Ivy much more than the one in the previous book but don’t want to get too attached in case she changes again in the next one.

All in all, I’m not really sure what to make of it. I enjoyed the adventure romp, and the world-building, but I’m honestly not sure I believe in the central relationship of the series any more. That’s not going to stop me from reading the next book, of course.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499734
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 3 stars

The second book of the Parasol Protectorate series sees Alexia, now Lady Macoon, have to investigate a plague of humanity that affects London’s supernatural population. A quest that sees her follow her husband north to Scotland, and the pack of werewolves he once abandoned.

This was mostly fun, but I did have some issues with it that I didn’t have with the first book. Firstly, the whole Scot-bashing thing is wearing a bit thin. It was bad enough in the last book with just Lord Macoon in London, but much of this is set in the Highlands and I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes.

Secondly, Alexia’s relationship with her best friend Ivy is just weird. This was something that I’d seen mentioned in a review of the last book, but which I didn’t really agree with at the time (I put the whole “ugly hat” thing down to being an in-joke between old friends). Here, I honestly can’t see much of the way of affection between the two women, and their friendship is stated to only be four years old. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt since Alexia does go from crisis to crisis throughout the book, but it’s still odd, and doesn’t leave me thinking well of either woman.

And then there’s the treatment of empire. It’s an interesting and clever notion to use werewolves as the shock troops of the British empire, enabling it to conquer a quarter of the world. Here, a major plot driver is the return of the Kingair pack from active duty in India. There’s nobody here that even suggests that the imperial project is a bad thing, or acknowledges that atrocities that must have been carried out in its name. This might be something that I wouldn’t have noticed when I was younger, but I’ve become much more sensitive to it as I’ve got older, and although yes, the upper classes of the period especially would have had their wealth based on empire, I feel the author should have acknowledged the pain that it caused to the colonised nations.

On the plus side, it was fantastic to see Genevieve Lefoux and Sidheag Kingair make appearances, since they were characters I was very fond of in the Finishing School books. And it looks like Genevieve may well have a role to play in future books in the series.

The relationship between Alexia and Conall Macoon is genuinely wonderful, having a strong bond, and very healthy respect for each other that isn’t overly sentimental. Which makes the ending all the more shocking. I will be very disappointed if the next book turns into one of my least favourite tropes: that of misunderstandings caused by wilful lack of communication, but I’m going to get to it as soon as possible.

Book details

ISBN: 9781841499741
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

I came to this series after reading Carriger’s Finishing School series which I enjoyed a lot. This is set in the same universe, maybe a generation later. You can tell it was written earlier as some of the world that was fleshed out by the time of Finishing School was still a bit vague in this one, but Carriger already has a good sense of world-building, and her prose is a pleasure to read.

Our protagonist is Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman with the ability to cancel out the powers of supernatural creatures, such as vampires and werewolves, by touching them. The polite term of this is preternatural, but the less polite call her soulless (as opposed to the supernatural, who have a surfeit of soul). At the start of the book, she’s attacked by a vampire (without even introducing himself!) and she’s forced to kill him. This leads her into contact with Lord Maccon of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and himself a powerful werewolf, who has to investigate. As Alexia investigates further, she gets sucked into a plot that could shake the Empire to its core.

That sounds quite dense, but the book is really readable and a lot of fun to read. It’s as much comedy of manners as it is investigative thriller. And it’s also really rather sensual, and quite sexy too, which I wasn’t expecting, after the very chaste Finishing School books. Alexia and Lord Maccon share a mutual attraction and there’s quite detailed descriptions of Alexia discovering the joys of kissing. And the thing about attraction to a werewolf is, that when he changes back from wolf to human, he’s naked. And, oh, Alexia has to hold on to him to use her powers to keep him in human form. How awful. Let’s just say she doesn’t stop her hands from roving.

There’s a lot of scope to explore the world that Carriger has constructed here, and I’m looking forward to following Alexia as she steps into that wider world. I just hope that, after a lot of Scots-bashing in the first book (Lord Maccon is Scottish and there’s a lot of jokes about how uncouth the Scots are), there’s less of that in future.

Book details

Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2010

Manners & Mutiny (Finishing School, #4)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

Like the rest of this series, this final book is fairly fluffy but great fun to read. I enjoyed the time I spent with Sophronia and her friends on the floating espionage/finishing school that is Mademoiselle Geraldine’s. This one picks up the threads that have been left lying around by the previous books and deftly weaves them into an action-packed finale. I was pleased to see that a theory I’ve had since almost the start of the series was confirmed, and it was nice to see Agatha get some cool stuff to do, since she’s very much been a background character to date. Sidheag was off-screen this volume, which is a shame, since she’s a great character, but she had her time in the limelight last time round.

There’s a great action sequence towards the end that really sees the stakes raised and it’s great to see Sophronia take everything she’s learned over the last four books and put it all to good use. The romance between Sophronia and Soap finally takes off as well, although complicated by the events of the end of the last book.

It might not be great art, but it’s perfect for a weekend read in the autumn sun. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and the series, and will definitely look out Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, which is set in the same world.

Book details

Waistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School, #3)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

There’s more frothy, fashion-filled fun as Sophronia and gang return for espionage and carrying themselves properly. This time Sophronia and her friends attend a pre-wedding party for Sophronia’s brother, and help Sidheag stowaway on a train heading back to Scotland to deal with a serious problem in her clan of werewolves.

As with the others, this is a huge amount of fun, even if Sophronia does spend a lot of it angsting over the two delicious boys who are fighting to fall at her feet. But we do get some respite from that with politics! The politics of this world are all about balance, trying to keep the differing supernatural and human factions equally disgruntled. And now there’s something that upsets that balance, and it’s up to Sophronia and friends to do something about it.

I’ve seen complaints that Sophronia is a Mary-Sue character. This might be right, but I’ve read enough golden age science fiction featuring “hero scientists” (Doc Smith and Heinlein, I’m looking at you!), to suspect that we’d not be having this conversation if the protagonist was male.

Tangentially related, I’ve recently got very into the Hugo, Girl podcast, and one of the segments they have is “boob talk”, where they talk about egregious descriptions of (usually) female characters. This has made me much more aware of it when I come across this in writing. Something that I might have not really paid attention to before now stands out quite a lot. There are a lot of references to Sophronia’s looks and figure here, which I guess makes sense in a series about a school for female spies – as Lady Linnette says, seduction as a tool of espionage has a long and (maybe) honourable history. Still, it was slightly uncomfortable to read, especially about a teenage girl.

Still, notwithstanding that, the book is hugely readable and a lot of fun. The status quo has been well and truly shaken up and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the final book.

Book details

Publisher: Atom
Year of publication: 2014

Curtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School, #2)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

Picking up from where the last book left off, we discover more about the macguffin that everyone was trying to get their hands on last time, and also get some insight into the political machinations of vampires and werewolves. There’s more floating school based shenanigans and the relationships between the girls deepen. There’s also the beginnings of a love triangle (something that always makes me cringe a bit) between Sophronia, Soap and Felix. And speaking of Soap, while I enjoy a fun steampunk book as much as the next person, one without much in the way of introspection of class feels a bit frothy. The sooties are the same age as the girls in the school but their circumstances couldn’t be more different.

But other than that, the book was a huge amount of fun to read, and with dry humour and silly names, it’s clearly making fun of a certain kind of twee British aristocrat. I’ll certainly be reading the others in the series.

Book details

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)

By Gail Carriger

Rating: 4 stars

Sophronia Temminnick is too interested in climbing things (and people) and figuring out how things work for her mother, so she is packed away to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, much to Sophronia’s disgust. But things are not as they seem, and as well as learning to flutter her eyelashes at eligible gentlemen and how to execute the perfect curtsey, there’s also defence against vampires and werewolves, knife fighting, intelligence gathering, and more.

I found this book to be a whole lot of fun. It’s pretty lightweight and bubblegummy but there’s a lot to enjoy. I like Sophronia and her friends Dimity and Sidheag, and I liked that the older girl, Monique was demoted to the same level as the new entrants as punishment, something which also lets Carriger throw in some exposition about the world and the school in a fairly subtle manner.

Speaking of the school, I loved the idea behind it. It felt like some sort of steampunk Cloudbase or Helicarrier and felt both very steampunk and very decadent. Just the place that Mademoiselle Geraldine would have picked for her school.

Loads of fun, complete with the dirigibles that are de rigueur for steampunk and a very cute mechanical steam-powered pet dog. I’ll definitely be continuing with the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780316190084
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Year of publication: 2013

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