Today I Read…Timeless

TimelessToday I read Timeless, the fifth and final book in the Parasol Protectorate series. You can read my reviews of the other books in the series, Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless.

Life is about as settled as it ever gets for the preternatural Lady Alexia Tarabotti Maccon. She and her husband Lord Conall Maccon and the Woolsey werewolf pack are settled into their London townhouse. Well, the pack is settled into the townhouse–Alexia and Conall are secretly settled in the third closet of their next-door neighbour, the impeccably stylish vampire Lord Akeldama, who is raising their metanatural daughter Prudence (it was let him adopt the baby, or get murdered by the other vampires of London. It was still a hard decision.). The Maccons are also the patrons of the Tunstell’s Acting Troupe a la Mode, run by Alexia’s dear friend Ivy Tunstell and her husband–useful, since they need a good reason to go to Egypt when summoned by Queen Matakara. Patrons accompanying a troupe for a command performance is perfectly natural, now isn’t it? Much more expected than the oldest living vampire wanting to meet a toddler–even one as remarkable as Prudence Maccon.

Suddenly all roads seem to lead to Egypt, between Matakara’s invitation, a Kingair werewolf being shot after returning from Egypt, and the rumours that Alexia’s father was doing something there when he met Alexia’s mother.

Thank goodness Alexia has a new parasol–the sun isn’t the only deadly thing in Egypt.

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And thus concludes the Parasol Protectorate, at least for now. Finally all of the various mysteries of the series are tied up, and people are as settled as they can get. I’ve enjoyed the gradual expansion throughout the series from the focus on Alexia to watching each of her friends. I’m hard put to pick a favourite character–I do love Lord Akeldama and his outrageousness, but I also have a fondness for Biffy, so much stronger than he thinks he is and so devoted to making the world beautiful one accessory at a time, and for Professor Lyall, so quiet and competent and easily overlooked, while so completely ruthless in the name of his pack. And I’d love to see the books turned into a movie just so I could see Ivy’s hats–I’m not sure my imagination is up to the task.

All of the books in the series are fairly similar, with similar strengths. In a less-skilled author than Carriger, it could start to feel repetitive, but Alexia never quite loses her unique charm (otherwise known as bashing people with her parasol, verbally or literally, as required). The books are very visual, with detailed descriptions, particularly of the clothing of the time. The first two books have been published in manga form, with the third on the way–I may have to track them down to see how they have visually interpreted Carriger’s world.

It’s always a little sad to reach the end of the story–you have to say goodbye to the people you’ve met on this strange, wonderful journey. The nice thing is that you can pick the book up again, but it’s different when you’re walking a path you’ve walked before than when you are forging through new ground. Still, Timeless is a good ending, as far as endings go. The good live happily ever after, if somewhat noisily in the case of Alexia and Conall. Those who have done wrong, even in the name of the greater good, are punished, but still have the hope of redemption. You can’t ask for more than that.

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“I said no such thing,” grumbled Lord Maccon, allowing himself, begrudgingly, to be trussed in a new evening jacket. He twisted his head around, annoyed by the height of the collar and the tightness of the cravat. Floote patiently waited for him to stop twitching before continuing with the jacket. Werewolf or not, Lord Maccon would look his best or Floote’s given name wasn’t Algernon—which it was.

“Yes, you did, my dear.” Lady Alexia Maccon was one of the few people in London who dared contradict Lord Maccon. Being his wife, it might be said that she rather specialized in doing so. Alexia was already dressed, her statuesque form resplendent in a maroon silk and black lace evening gown with mandarin collar and Asian sleeves, newly arrived from Paris. “I remember it quite distinctly.” She pretended distraction in transferring her necessaries into a black beaded reticule. “I said we should show our patronage and support on opening night, and you grunted at me.”

“Well, there, that explains everything. That was a grunt of displeasure.” Lord Maccon wrinkled his nose like a petulant child while Floote skirted about him, puffing away nonexistent crumbs with the latest in steam-controlled air-puffing dewrinklers.

“No, dear, no. It was definitely one of your affirmative grunts.”

Conall Maccon paused at that and gave his wife a startled look. “God’s teeth, woman, how could you possibly tell?”

“Three years of marriage, dear. Regardless, I’ve replied in the affirmative that we will be in attendance at the Adelphi at nine sharp in time to take our box. We are both expected. There is no way out of it.”

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Downstairs, Lord Akeldama had converted a side parlor into a bathing chamber for his adopted daughter. It had become clear rather early on that bathing was going to be an event of epic proportions, requiring a room large enough to accommodate several of his best and most capable drones. Still, this being Lord Akeldama, even a room dedicated to the cleanliness of an infant was not allowed to be sacrificed upon the unadorned altar of practicality.

A thick Georgian rug lay on the floor covered with cavorting shepherdesses, the walls were painted in pale blue and white, and he’d had the ceiling frescoed with sea life in deference to the troublesome child’s evident unwillingness to associate with such. The cheerful otters, fish, and cephalopods above were meant as encouragement, but it was clear his daughter saw them as nothing more than squishy threats.

In the exact center of the room stood a gold, claw-footed bathtub. It was far too large for a toddler, but Lord Akeldama never did anything by halves, especially if he might double it at three times the expense. There was also a fireplace, before which stood multiple gold racks supporting fluffy and highly absorbent drying cloths and one very small Chinese silk robe.

There were no less than eight drones in attendance, as well as Lord Akeldama, a footman, and the nursemaid. Nevertheless, nothing could take on Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama when bathing was at stake.

The tub was overturned, saturating the beautiful rug with soapy water. Several of the drones were drenched. One was nursing a bruised knee and another a split lip. Lord Akeldama had tiny soapy handprints all over him. One of the drying racks had fallen on its side, singeing a cloth in the fire. The footman was standing with his mouth open, holding a bar of soap in one hand and a wedge of cheese in the other. The nanny had collapsed on a settee in tears.

In fact, the only person who seemed neither injured nor wet in any way was Prudence herself. The toddler was perched precariously on top of the mantelpiece over the fire, completely naked, with a very militant expression on her tiny face, yelling, “Noth, Dama. Noth wet. Noth, Dama!” She was lisping around her fangs.

Alexia stood in the doorway, transfixed.

Lord Akeldama straightened where he stood. “My darlings,” he said, “tactic number eight, I think—circle and enclose. Now brace yourselves, my pets. I’m going in.”

All the drones straightened and took up wide boxer’s stances, forming a loose circle about the contested mantelpiece. All attention was focused on the toddler, who held the high ground, unflinching.

The ancient vampire launched himself at his adopted daughter. He could move fast, possibly faster than any other creature Alexia had ever observed, and she had been the unfortunate victim of more than one vampire attack. However, in this particular instance, Lord Akeldama moved no quicker than any ordinary mortal man. Which was, of course, the current difficulty—hewas an ordinary mortal. His face was no longer deathless perfection but slightly effete and perhaps a little sulky. His movements were still graceful, but they were mortally graceful and, unfortunately, mortally slow.

Prudence leaped away in the manner of some kind of high-speed frog, her tiny, stubbly legs supernaturally strong but still toddler unstable. She crashed to the floor, screamed in very brief pain, and then zipped about looking for a break in the circle of drones closing in upon her.

“Noth, Dama. Noth wet,” she cried, charging one of the drones, her tiny fangs bared. Unaware of her own supernatural strength, the baby managed to bash her way between the poor man’s legs, making for the open doorway.

Except that the doorway was not, in fact, open. Therein stood the only creature who little Prudence had learned to fear and, of course, the one she loved best in all the world.

“Mama!” came her delighted cry, and then, “Dada!” as Conall’s shaggy head loomed up from behind his wife.

Alexia held out her arms and Prudence barreled into them with all the supernatural speed that a toddler vampire could manage. Alexia let out a harrumph of impact and stumbled backward into Conall’s broad, supportive embrace.

The moment the naked baby came into contact with Alexia’s bare arms, Prudence became no more dangerous than any squirming child.

“Now, Prudence, what is this fuss?” remonstrated her mother.

“No, Dama. No wet!” explained the toddler very clearly, now that she did not have the fangs to speak around.

“It’s bath night. You don’t have a choice. Real ladies are clean ladies,” explained her mother, rather sensibly, she thought.

Prudence was having none of it. “Nuh-uh.”

Lord Akeldama came over. He was once more pale, his movements quick and sharp. “Apologies, my little dumpling. She got away from Boots there and hurled herself at me before I could dodge.” He moved one fine white hand to stroke his adopted daughter’s hair back from her face. It was safe to do so now that Alexia held her close.

Prudence narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “No wet, Dama,” she insisted.

“Well, accidents will happen and we all know how she gets.” Alexia gave her daughter a stern look. Prudence, undaunted, glared back. Lady Maccon shook her head in exasperation. “Conall and I are off to the theater. Do you think you can handle bath night without me? Or should we cancel?”

Lord Akeldama was aghast at the mere suggestion. “Oh, dear me no,buttercup, never that! Not go to the theater? Heaven forfend. No, we shall shift perfectly well here without you, now that we’ve weathered this one teeny-tiny upset, won’t we, Prudence?”

“No,” replied Prudence.

Lord Akeldama backed away from her. “I’ll stay well out of range from here on, I assure you,” continued the vampire. “One brush with mortality a night is more than enough for me. It’s quite the discombobulating sensation, your daughter’s touch. Not at all like your own.”

Lord Maccon, who had been placed in a similar position on more than one occasion with regard to his daughter’s odd abilities, was uncharacteristically sympathetic to the vampire. He replied with a fervent, “I’ll say.” He also took the opportunity of Prudence being in her mother’s arms to ruffle his daughter’s hair affectionately.

“Dada! No wet?”

“Perhaps we could move bath night to tomorrow,” suggested Lord Maccon, succumbing to the plea in his daughter’s eyes.

Lord Akeldama brightened.

“Absolutely not,” replied Lady Maccon to both of them. “Backbone, gentlemen. We must stick to a routine. All the physicians say routine is vital to the well-being of the infant and her proper ethical indoctrination.”

The two immortals exchanged the looks of men who knew when they were beaten.

In order to forestall any further shilly-shallying, Alexia carried her struggling daughter over to the tub, which had been righted and refilled with warm water. Under ordinary circumstances, she would have plopped the child in herself, but worried over the dress, she passed Prudence off to Boots and stepped well out of harm’s way.

Under the watchful eye of her mother, the toddler acquiesced to full immersion, with only a nose wrinkle of disgust.

Alexia nodded. “Good girl. Now do behave for poor Dama. He puts up with an awful lot from you.”

“Dama!” replied the child, pointing at Lord Akeldama.

“Yes, very good.” Alexia turned back to her husband and the vampire in the doorway. “Do have a care, my lord.”

Lord Akeldama nodded. “Indeed. I must say I had not anticipated such a challenge when Professor Lyall first suggested the adoption.”

“Yes, it was foolish of all of us to think that Alexia here would produce a biddable child,” agreed the sire of said child, implying that any flaw was Alexia’s fault and that he would have produced nothing but the most mild-mannered and pliant of offspring.

“Or even one that a vampire could control.”

“Or a vampire and a pack of werewolves, for that matter.”

Alexia gave them both a look. “I hardly feel I can be entirely at fault. Are you claiming Sidheag is an aberration in the Maccon line?”

Lord Maccon tilted his head, thinking about his great-great-great-granddaughter, now Alpha werewolf of the Kingair Pack, a woman prone to wielding rifles and smoking small cigars. “Point taken.”

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Afterward, Biffy could only just recall that ride back home, stumbling into the house and up the stairs, he and Professor Lyall leaning against one another in exhaustion. But he remembered perfectly the Beta’s face, a single sharp look when they reached the door to his chamber, almost frightened. It was a look Biffy recognized. He had neither the strength nor the interest in allowing loneliness to pillage anyone else’s peace of mind.

So he made the offer. “Would you like company, Professor?”

Professor Lyall looked at him, hazel eyes desperate. “I wouldn’t… that is… I couldn’t… that is… I’m not all that… capable.” He gave a weak little flap of a gesture indicating his still-wounded state, his fatigue, and his disheveled appearance all in one.

Biffy gave a little puff of a chuckle. He had never seen the urbane professor discombobulated before. Had he known, he might have flirted more in the past. “Just company, sir. I should never presume even if we were both in perfect health.” Besides, my hair must look atrocious. Imagine being able to attract anyone in such a state, let alone someone of Lyall’s standing.

The corner of his Beta’s mouth twitched, and he withdrew behind a veil of dispassionate hazel eyes. “Pity, pup? After you heard what Lord Woolsey did to me? It was a long time ago.”

Biffy had no doubt Professor Lyall was as proud, in his way, as any other man of good breeding and refined tastes. He tilted his head, showing his neck submissively. “No, sir. Never that. Respect, I suppose. To survive such things and still be sane.”

“Betas are made to maintain order. We are the butlers of the supernatural world.” An analogy no doubt sparked by the advent of Floote, who glided down the hallway toward them, looking as concerned as it is possible for a man to look who, so far as Biffy could tell, never displayed any emotion at all.

“You are well, gentlemen?”

“Yes, thank you, Floote.”

“There is nothing I can get for you?”

“No, thank you, Floote.”

“Investigation?” The butler arched an eyebrow at their fatigued and roughened state.

“No, Floote, a matter of pack protocol.”

“Ah.”

“Carry on, Floote.”

“Very good, sir.” Floote drifted away.

Biffy turned to make his way to his own sleeping chamber, assured now that his overtures had been rejected. He was forestalled by a hand on his arm.

Lyall had lovely hands, fine and strong, the hands of an artist who practiced a craft, a carpenter, perhaps, or a baker. Biffy had a sudden fanciful image of Lyall with a smudge of flour on his face, going comfortably into old age with a fine wife and brood of mild-mannered children.

The sandy head tilted in silent invitation. Professor Lyall opened the door to his bedroom. Biffy hesitated only a moment before following him inside.

By the time the sun set that evening, they were both fully recovered from the ordeal, having slept the day away without incident. Fully recovered and curled together naked in Lyall’s small bed.

Biffy learned, through careful kisses and soft caress, that Lyall was not at all disturbed by messy hair. In fact, his Beta’s hands were almost reverent, stroking through his curls. Biffy hoped that with his own touch he could convey his disregard for Lyall’s past actions and suffering, determined that none of what they did together should be about shame. Most of it, Biffy guessed, was about companionship. There might have been a tiny little seed of love. Just the beginnings, but a tender, equality of love, of a kind Biffy had never before experienced.

Professor Lyall was as different from Lord Akeldama as was possible. But there was something in that very difference that Biffy found restful. The contrast in characters made it feel like less of a betrayal. For two years, Biffy had held on to his hope and his infatuation with the vampire. It was time to let go. However, he didn’t feel that Lyall was edging Lord Akeldama out. Lyall wasn’t the type to compete. Instead he was carving himself a new place. Biffy might just be able to make the room. Lyall was, after all, not very big, for a werewolf. Of course, he worried about Felicity’s story of Alessandro Tarabotti, about whether Lyall was capable of loving him back, but it was early yet and Biffy allowed himself to revel in the simple joy that can only be found in allaying another’s loneliness.

When Lyall lay flush against him, nuzzling up into his neck, Biffy thought they fit well together. Not matched colors so much as coordinated, with Lyall a neutral cream satin, perhaps, and Biffy a royal blue.

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