Today I Read…Heartless

Today I read Heartless, the fourth book in the Parasol Protectorate seriHeartlesses by Gail Carriger. Check out my reviews of the first three books, Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless.

Lady Alexia Tarabotti Maccon is not enjoying her delicate condition. The infant-inconvenience kicks her, disrupts her appetite, and the vampires want to kill her to prevent the baby from being born. It’s been a very trying eight months (particularly for the men in her life: chiefly, her werewolf husband, Lord Conall Maccon; his beta, Professor Lyall; and her close friend, the vampire Lord Akeldama). And now they’ve come up with the most outrageous scheme: to let Lord Akeldama adopt and raise her child! Of course, it would pacify the vampires, and Akeldama is even willing to remodel his second closet into a nursery–you simply can’t ask more of him than to relocate clothing. And the house next door is for sale, so Alexia could stay close. And it will put Biffy, the most recent member of the werewolf pack in close quarters with his former master and, er, special friend, Lord Akeldama, which is nice since Biffy isn’t quite adjusting to his emergency werewolfification as well as could be hoped… Perhaps it isn’t so foolish an idea after all.

Then Alexia and Conall get attacked by poisoned porcupines. A deranged ghost is claiming there is a plot to assassinate the queen. Alexia’s best friend Ivy and her husband have formed an acting troupe, and requested Lady Maccon become their patroness. The French inventor Madame Lefoux has created an enormous mechanical brass octopus and is attacking the home of the vampire queen Countess Nadasdy in an effort to retrieve her son Quesnel. And worst of all, Alexia’s sister Felicity is claiming to have thrown over gowns and gossip for tweed and suffrage, and is moving in with the Maccons.

When people say that Lady Maccon is in an interesting condition, they are not exaggerating in the slightest.

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Alexia continues to be thoroughly incapable of not having an adventure, and proves that just because she is pregnant most certainly does not mean that she will be slowing down in any way. She may be barely able to waddle around, but she will still vigorously investigate the threat against the queen’s life. Even if she does initially mistake which queen the threat is against. We learn a bit more about preternaturals and supernaturals, and why the vampires feel so threatened by Alexia and Conall’s child, as well as about the former Kingair assassination plot which drove Conall away from his original pack.

Biffy the new werewolf is one of my favourite characters, and it’s interesting to see his struggle with his new curse of lycanthropy. He used to be a drone and lover of Lord Akeldama, and had once hoped to become a vampire himself in time. Unfortunately, in the last book Conall was forced to bite him to save his life, and being a werewolf is very different from being a vampire, even though both are immortal. He still loves Akeldama, even though a romance between a vampire and a werewolf is unheard of, and they both know they must part. Still, the heart is harder to convince than the head is.

All of the books in the series follow a formula: mystery, danger, witty banter, but it’s a formula that works very well. Alexia and Conall’s eternal arguments are always entertaining, as are the perfectly proper and extremely absurd Victorian manners. It’s not quote what I would call British humour, as exemplified by Monty Python and Douglas Adams, but it is a genteel cousin. Carriger continues to describe Victorian society, clothing, and manners very well, but it is her more than lively characters (Alexia certainly is) that shine.

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Alexia had only a moment of reprieve to appreciate the macabre sight of a wolf luring away a flock of porcupines like some Aesop’s version of the Pied Piper. A thud resounded on the driver’s box on the outside of the carriage. Something far larger than a porcupine had hit the claviger coachman and knocked him out. Seconds later, for speed was always their strong point, the parasol was bashed out of Alexia’s grasp and the carriage door yanked open.

“Good evening, Lady Maccon.” The vampire tipped his top hat with one hand, holding the door with the other. He occupied the entrance in an ominous, looming manner.

“Ah, how do you do, Lord Ambrose?”

“Tolerably well, tolerably well. It is a lovely night, don’t you find? And how is your”—he glanced at her engorged belly—“health?”

“Exceedingly abundant,” Alexia replied with a self-effacing shrug, “although, I suspect, unlikely to remain so.”

“Have you been eating figs?”

Alexia was startled by this odd question. “Figs?”

“Terribly beneficial in preventing biliousness in newborns, I understand.”

Alexia had been in receipt of a good deal of unwanted pregnancy advice over the last several months, so she ignored this and got on to the business at hand.

“If you don’t feel that it is forward of me to ask, are you here to kill me, Lord Ambrose?” She inched away from the carriage door, reaching for Ethel. The gun lay behind her on the coach seat. She had not had time to put it back into its reticule with the pineapple cut siding. The reticule was a perfect match to her gray plaid carriage dress with green lace trim. Lady Alexia Maccon was a woman who liked to see a thing done properly or not at all.

The vampire tilted his head to one side in acknowledgment. “Sadly, yes. I do apologize for the inconvenience.”

“Oh, really, must you? I’d much rather you didn’t.”

“That’s what they all say.”

******************************************************************************************************************

Miss Felicity Loontwill sat in Lord Akeldama’s drawing room in a dress of sensible heathered tweed with only one layer of trim and six buttons, a hat with minimal feathers, and a gray knit shawl with a ruffled collar.

“Oh, my heavens,” exclaimed Lady Maccon upon seeing her sister in such a state. “Felicity, are you quite all right?”

Miss Loontwill looked up. “Why, yes, of course, sister. Why shouldn’t I be?”

“Is there something amiss with the family?”

“You mean, aside from Mama’s predilection for pink?”

Alexia, blinking in flabbergasted shock, lowered herself carefully onto a chair. “But, Felicity, you are wearing last season’s dress!” She lowered her voice, in genuine fear that her sister might be deranged. “Andknitwear.”

“Oh.” Felicity wrapped the ghastly shawl tighter about her neck. “It was necessary.”

Lady Maccon was only further shocked by such an unexpected statement. “Necessary? Necessary!”

“Well, yes, Alexia, do pay attention. Have you always been this frazzled, or is it your unfortunate condition?” Felicity lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Necessary because I have been fraternizing.”

“You have? With whom?” Alexia became suspicious. It was very late at night for an unmarried young lady of quality to be cavorting about unchaperoned, especially one who kept daylight hours and whose parents shunned association with the supernatural set.

“I am wearing tweed. With whom else? Some poor unfortunates of the middle class.”

Lady Maccon would have none of it. “Oh, really, Felicity, you can hardly expect me to believe that you have had anything whatsoever to do with the lower orders.”

“You may choose to believe it or not, sister.”

Alexia wished for a return of her ability to stride about and loom threateningly. Sadly, striding was several months behind her, and should she attempt to loom, she would undoubtedly overbalance and pitch forward in graceless splendor. She settled for glaring daggers at her sibling. “Very well, then, what are you doing here? And how did you know to find me at Lord Akeldama’s residence?”

“Mrs. Tunstell told me where to find you.” Felicity looked with a critical eye at the golden magnificence surrounding her.

“Ivy? How did Ivy know?”

“Madame Lefoux told her.”

“Oh, she did, did she? And how—”

“Apparently someone named Professor Lyall told Madame Lefoux your relocation was taking place this evening and that you would hole up at Lord Akeldama’s, in case there were any orders pending delivery. Have you commissioned a new hat, sister? From that crass foreign female? Are you certain you should be patronizing her establishment after what happened in Scotland? And who is this Professor Lyall person? You haven’t taken up with academics, have you? That cannot possibly be healthy. Education is terribly bad for the nerves, especially for a woman in your state.”

Lady Maccon grappled for some appropriate response.

Felicity added, in a blatant attempt at distraction, “Speaking of which, you have gotten tremendously portly, haven’t you? Is increasing supposed to cause you to swell quite so much as all that?”

Lady Maccon frowned. “I believe I have increased, as it were, to the maximum. You know me—I always insist on seeing a thing done as thoroughly as possible.”

“Well, Mama says to make certain you don’t get angry with anyone. The child will end up looking like him.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, emotional mimicking they call it, and—”

“Well, that’s no trouble. It will simply end up looking like my husband.”

“But what if it is a female? Wouldn’t that be horrible? She’d be all fuzzy and—”

Felicity would have continued but Lady Maccon lost her patience, a thing she was all too prone to misplacing. “Felicity, why are you visiting me?”

Miss Loontwill hedged. “This is quite the remarkable abode. I never did think I should ever see inside of a vampire hive. And so charming and gleaming and full of exquisite collections. Almost up to my standards.”

“This is not a hive—there is no queen. Not in the technical definition of the word. I will not be so easily detoured, Felicity. Why have you shown up at such a time of night? And why would you undertake such pains to discover my whereabouts?”

Her sister shifted on the brocade settee, her blond head tilted to one side and a small frown creased her perfect forehead. She had not, Alexia noticed, modified her elaborately styled ringlets to match her lowbrow outfit. A row of perfect flat curls were gummed to her forehead in the very latest style.

“You have not paid the family much mind since your return to London.”

Lady Maccon considered this accusation. “You must admit, I was made to feel rather unwelcome prior to my departure.” And that is putting it mildly. Her family had always been a mite petty for her taste, even before they unilaterally decided to expel her from their midst at the most inconvenient time. Since her ill-fated trip to Scotland and subsequent dash across half the known world, she had simply elected to avoid the Loontwills as much as possible. As Lady Maccon, denizen of the night, who fraternized with werewolves; inventors; and, horror of horrors, actors, this was a relatively easy undertaking.

“Yes, but it’s been positively months, sister! I did not think you the type to hold a grudge. Did you know Evylin has renewed her engagement to Captain Featherstonehaugh?”

Lady Maccon only stared at her sister, tapping one slipper lightly on the carpeted floor.

Miss Loontwill blushed, looking toward her and then away again. “I have become”—she paused as though searching for the correct way of phrasing it—“involved.”

Alexia felt a tremor of real fear flutter through her breast. Or is that indigestion? “Oh, no, Felicity. Not with someone unsuitable? Not with someone middle class. Mama would never forgive you!”

Felicity stood and began to wander about the gilded room showing considerable agitation. “No, no, you misconstrue my meaning. I have become involved with my local chapter of the”—she lowered her voice dramatically—“National Society for Women’s Suffrage.”

If Lady Maccon hadn’t already been sitting down, she would have had to sit at such a statement. “You want to vote? You? But you can’t even decide which gloves to wear of a morning.”

“I believe in the cause.”

“Poppycock. You’ve never believed in anything in your whole life, except possibly the reliability of the French to predict next season’s color palette.”

“Well. Still.”

“But, Felicity, really this is so very common. Couldn’t you start up a ladies aid society or an embroidery social?You? Politically minded? I cannot deem such a thing feasible. It has only been five months since I met with you last, not five years, and even then you could not change your character so drastically. A feathered bonnet does not molt so easily as that.”

**************************************************************************************************************

Lady Maccon hesitated, wondering exactly how much to reveal. Ivy was a dear little soul, but was she reliable? She decided to buck up and take the plunge. “Ivy, have you ever wondered if there might, just possibly, be something slightly unusual about me?”

“Well, Alexia my dear, I never liked to say, but I have always wondered about your hat preferences. They have struck me as mighty plain.”

Lady Maccon shook her head. The long blue ostrich feather of her not-at-all-plain hat wafted back and forth behind her. “No, not that, I mean . . . Well, dash it, Ivy, there’s nothing for it.”

Mrs. Tunstell gasped in enchanted shock at Lady Maccon’s lowbrow language. “Alexia, you have been fraternizing with werewolves overmuch! Military men can be terribly bad for one’s verbal concatenation.”

Alexia took a deep breath and then blurted out, “I’m preternatural.”

Ivy’s dark eyes widened. “Oh, no! Is it catching?”

Alexia blinked at her.

Ivy donned a sympathetic expression. “Is it a terribly painful condition?”

Lady Maccon continued to blink.

Ivy put a hand to her throat. “Is it the baby? Will you both be well? Should I send for barley water?”

Alexia finally found her voice. “No, preternatural.You might know the term, as in soulless? Or curse-breaker. I have no soul. None at all. As a matter of fact, I can cancel it out in supernatural creatures given half a chance.”

Ivy relaxed. “Oh, that. Yes, I knew. I shouldn’t let it concern you, my dear. I doubt anybody minds.”

“Yes, but . . . Wait, you knew?”

Ivy tut-tutted and shook dark ringlets at her friend in mock amusement. “Of course I knew—have done for simply ages.”

“But you never mentioned a thing to me on the subject.” Alexia was not often flummoxed. She found it an usual sensation and wondered if this was what Ivy felt like most of the time. Her friend’s revelation did, however, give her some degree of confidence in her next move. Despite all her frivolities, Ivy could clearly keep a secret and, it turned out, was more observant than Alexia had previously given her credit for.

“Now, Alexia, I thought you were embarrassed about it. I didn’t want to bring up an uncomfortable personal disability. I have more sensitivity and care for the feelings of others than that!”

“Ah, oh, well. Of course you do. Regardless, as a preternatural, I am currently engaged in some investigations. I was hoping to enlist your aid. It has to do with my husband’s work.” Alexia didn’t want to tell Ivy absolutely everything, but she didn’t want to fib outright either.

“For BUR? Espionage! Oh, really? How terribly glamorous.” Ivy clasped yellow-gloved hands together in delight.

“To which end I was hoping to, well, induct you into a kind of secret society.”

Ivy looked as though she had not heard anything so thrilling in all her life. “Me?” she squeaked. “Really? How marvelous. What’s it called, this secret society?”

Alexia hesitated and then, recalling a phrase her husband had once offered up in the heat of annoyance, suggested tentatively, “The Parasol Protectorate?”

“Oooh, what a perfectly splendid name. So full of ornamentation!” Ivy practically bounced up and down on the lavender settee in her excitement. “Must I make a pledge, or memorize a sacred code of conduct, or engage in some pagan ritual or other?” Ivy had an expectant look on her face that suggested she would be very disappointed if this were not the case.

“Well, yes, of course.” Lady Maccon floundered, trying to come up with something appropriate to the occasion. She couldn’t make Ivy kneel, not in that dress—a periwinkle muslin day gown with an extremely long, tight bodice of the style favored by actresses.

After a moment’s thought, Alexia stood laboriously and waddled over to the umbrella stand to retrieve her parasol. This she opened and placed point downward in the center of the room. Since the room was so very small, this did manage to take up most of the free space. Motioning Ivy to stand, Alexia handed her the handle and said, “Spin the parasol three times and repeat after me: I shield in the name of fashion. I accessorize for one and all. Pursuit of truth is my passion. This I vow by the great parasol.”

Ivy did as she was told, face serious and concentrated. “I shield in the name of fashion. I accessorize for one and all. Pursuit of truth is my passion. This I vow by the great parasol.”

“Now pick the parasol up and raise it, open, to the ceiling. Yes, just like that.”

“Is that all? Shouldn’t the vow be sealed in blood or something like?”

“Oh, do you think?”

Ivy nodded enthusiastically.

Alexia shrugged. “If you insist.” She took back her parasol, snapped it closed, and twisted the handle. Two wickedly sharp spikes projected out of the tip, one of silver, the other of wood.

Ivy inhaled in appreciation.

Lady Maccon flipped the parasol about. Then she took off one of her gloves. After a moment’s hesitation, Ivy did the same. Alexia nicked the pad of her thumb with the silver spike and then did the same for Ivy, who gave a little squeak of alarm. Then Alexia pressed their two thumbs together.

“May the blood of the soulless keep your own soul safe,” intoned Alexia, feeling appallingly melodramatic but knowing Ivy would love this better than anything.

Ivy did. “Oh, Alexia, this is so very stirring! It should be part of a play.”

“I shall have a special parasol made up for you, similar to mine.”

“Oh, no, but thank you for the thought, Alexia. I couldn’t possibly carry an accessory that emitted things all willy-nilly like that. Really, I’m much obliged, but I simply couldn’t bear it. You, of course, manage to carry it off with aplomb, but it would be too vulgar on someone like me.”

Lady Maccon frowned, but knowing her friend’s true weakness, she made another suggestion. “A special hat, perhaps?”

Ivy hesitated.

“Madame Lefoux designed my parasol.”

“Well, perhaps a small hat. One that isn’t too oozy?”

Alexia smiled. “I am convinced that could be arranged.”

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One thought on “Today I Read…Heartless

  1. Pingback: Today I Read…Timeless | wadingthroughbooks

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