Heartless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel
by Gail Carriger
9780316127196, $7.99, Orbit Books (Hachette)
Two things first: I hate this cover. Despite that, I really enjoyed the story.
I absolutely judge a book by its cover, and there's something about the woman on this cover that really turns me off. To the point where, despite having waited patiently for this book to become available on my library queue, when it came in, it took the book actually being due for me to stop ignoring it in the pile on my floor and actually read the damn thing, and once I did that, I read it in one day. So, there you go. Just one more example of why you should really never judge a book by it's (quite awful) cover.
If you have not been introduced to the Parasol Protectorate series yet, it is a delightful mix of Queen Victoria-era London and it's surrounding countryside, with occasional forays into other parts of Europe; the supernatural, paranormal, and preternatural worlds; steampunkery in terms of machinery and accessories, though the clothing is more typically Victorian; and lots and lots of tea drinking. You can read my review of book 1: Soulless, my reviews of book 2: Changeless and book 3: Blameless, and watch a video about the making of cover art for Blameless here, in order to get caught up. If you read all of these reviews, you will notice that I've been a bit wishy-washy on whether I was fully in support of this series or not. There's always something that I don't really like in these books, making me feel vaguely irritated while reading them, and yet they suck me in with the quality of writing and the unexpected plot elements and the most ridiculous situations the characters get themselves into and the descriptions of Victorian life. Dammit.
Luckily, book 4 was much better, in my estimation, than book 3 (I don't like marital tension, and there was a lot less of that in this book), though it was a close call because I almost stopped reading after the first 3 pages. That's how disappointing I found the first plot point. BUT, as the book went on, it was woven in, in such a delicate and thoughtful way, that soon I was on board and interested to see where things would go next.
Alexia Tarabotti, Lady Maccon, is eight months pregnant. Despite feeling the size of a fully-inflated dirigible, she tries not to let that slow her down as she investigates a new plot to kill the queen. Delving into the history of the last assassination attempt on the queen means diving into the history of how and why her husband Conall came to London from Scotland, a circumstance that no one is happy to remember as it involves betrayal and poison and a mad werewolf Alpha. After some sleuthing and deducing, Alexia realizes she's actually on the trail of two mysteries, just in time to alert the queen who's actually in danger (and it's not the queen you first think it is), save Genevieve's son, relocate a hive, relocate the werewolves, and give birth to the most beautiful and astonishing little creature ("creature" because I don't want to ruin the surprise). The whole cast of characters is present including a surprise visit from Alexia's sister, Felicity, who may or may not have joined the women's suffrage movement; Ivy and her hats who get sent off to Scotland for reconnaissance (there's a true friend!); Genevieve and her tinkering (octopuses come back into play); Lord Akeldama and his dandy drones; and of course, the Woolsey werewolves.
I enjoyed this book the most since the first novel, and am very much looking forward to book #5 in the Parasol Protectorate series, Timeless, out in March 2012. I warn you, though, I think I will continue not to like the covers.