Heartless is the fourth book of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, alternatively known as the Alexia Terrabotti novels, following Soulless, Changeless, and Blameless. Published by Orbit in June of 2011, Heartless picks up a few months after the third book left off.
Alexia, our not-so-delicate heroine without a soul, is now eight months pregnant, and back in the good graces of her husband, Lord Conal Maccoon of Woolsey, Alpha of the biggest and most powerful werewolf pack in Great Britain. While in London, an unsettled ghost appears to Alexia with a mangled message that seems to indicate a supernatural plot afoot to assassinate Queen Victoria. Alexia, crusader that she is, jumps on the case immediately and starts digging into past supernatural threats to the Queen and investigating a club of mad scientists. To do these, she enlists the help of her longtime friends, the vampire Lord Akeldama and Ivy Turnstell née Hisselpenny. All this while her sister Felicity is trying to genteelly run away from their parents by moving in with Alexia and joining the suffragette movement!
A little bit goes a long way
My biggest sticking point in this book is that, for me, Alexia is increasingly hard to relate to. The four books of this series happen almost back to back. Heartless finishes at most a year after Soulless, the first book, begins. Having enough crazy things happen in one year to fill four books is a lot. Let’s elaborate that she got married and she’s been pregnant through two books. During this time, her husband and family have both thrown her out and taken her back in again. She’s done a high octane trip through France and Italy. She’s been the target of countless assassination attempts. And that’s just the big bullet points version. I’m sorry, but at this point, she would not be capable of trying to prevent an assassination attempt on the Queen while eight months pregnant. Let’s not mention the more everyday things she’s also dealing with, like pack politics.
Yes, Alexia is preternatural and not truly human. But in order to be a likable protagonist, she needs to stay relatable. Had I just had a year like hers, I’d be in the corner with a nervous breakdown and feel totally justified in it. Alexia slows down only because she just can’t walk that fast at the moment due to her pregnancy.
Always look on the bright side
There are a lot of good things that still go on in this book. Carriger’s signature absurdities are back, and several side characters like Ivy get expanded roles. A chunk of back story for Conal, the Wolsey pack, and Alessandros is revealed, and it is very well done. While Alexia doesn’t do a lot of overt growth in this book, there’s a lot of character development for several smaller characters, including Ivy and the Lefouxs. This book is both smart and funny in a way that I’ve seen only Carriger pull off.
Why should you read this book?
For the same reason I did: because you like Carriger’s first three novels and because Carriger’s work is whimsical, witty and fun. I would not advise picking this book up if you haven’t read at least the first two books, though. Carriger does not go back to give you a rough recap of what happened in previous books; she’s assuming that you’ve read her other works.