Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Heartless Heartless
by Gail Carriger

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: June Young

If you have already read the earlier three books in the series, and enjoyed them as I did, then Heartless is worth reading. It is worth reading just for the revelations!!! It took me longer to read Heartless than the other three, but this is a somewhat more serious and thoughtful story than the others — and also a good read. The basic outline of Heartless is that a mad ghost gives Lady Alexia Maccon a warning that the Queen is in danger, so naturally Alexia investigates. It is her job to do so; after all she is muhjah to the Queen and a part of her Shadow Council. Heartless has small pieces of the stories from all three previous books as well as a new story.

It is hard to review any of Miss Carriger’s books in any sort of detail without giving the whole plot away; therefore an overview of the alternate world that The Parasol Protectorate series is set in would be more appropriate and helpful to potential readers. We are talking a mixture of several different genres – steampunk, comedy, romance, alternate history, horror, science fiction and Jane Austen. I have read and enjoyed novels by Jane Austen, the style of which The Parasol Protectorate series incorporates with its own play on manners, dress, etiquette, fashion and wit.

The Parasol Protectorate world is set in 1870’s Victorian England. Queen Victoria is the reigning monarch of the British Empire. England is a progressive place. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts have integrated into main stream English society, and have been since Tudor times. The end result is that the tropes of the horror genre are present, but the fact that these supernatural types live openly in England, and are a part of general society as well as the government, has taken the horror out of horror. It is all rather civilised, genteel and polite, very English. I think this is important to mention as the thought of reading a book with werewolves, ghosts and vampires was originally quite off-putting, as I really do not like the horror genre.

Enter Alexia, a preternatural, also known as a soulless. She has the ability to negate supernaturals, thereby turning them back into humans again. This makes Alexia potentially dangerous to supernaturals as they are vulnerable in their human state. Scientists of the Victorian Age postulate theories to explain the existence of such beings and why a few people can be turned into supernatural beings while many others cannot, and die in the attempt. While England is a progressive state there are countries on the Continent that are a lot more conservative towards supernaturals.

You really need to read the series in the proper order to fully appreciate each of the books as the story progresses. I read and enjoyed Soulless, Changeless and Blameless in fairly quick succession; and have appreciated each story for its entertainment value. The Parasol Protectorate series is cheerful, fun reading, and are not serious genre works, even if they are very imaginative in their creativity. I would recommend reading the stand-alone Soulless first, as an introduction to the characters and the setting, before reading any of the other three books that follow.

Miss Carriger on her author website, in an entry dated June 28th 2011, said that she tried to parody different types of Victorian literature in each of her Parasol Protectorate novels. I think she has done a decent job of this; each novel feels slightly different, yet they still have the same "Parasol Protectorate" flavour. Heartless is a cosy Sherlock-Holmes-style mystery.

The one negative I have with the Parasol Protectorate series is that each book has its own unique plausibility issue or issues. The genre elements are very well done and I have no complaints about that. It is the behaviour of the characters as people that make you wonder "would they really do this in that situation or is it just for the sake of the plot?" The fact that it is quite well-done comedy gives it some leeway, but I have noticed this weakness.

Heartless by Gail Carriger, is a 311 page long novel and the 4th in The Parasol Protectorate series. The full series is to consist of 5 books, the 5th entitled Timeless coming out in March 2012. Suitable for older teenagers and up.

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