Reviewing Paranormals, Fantasy, Steampunk, and, well, anything with a lot of world building is getting to be a somewhat dicey proposition. When I first started reviewing, there were a handful of authors that we insisted reviewers be completely up to date on before reviewing the latest. That number is growing progressively larger, and certainly includes Gail Carriger – whose books are delightful, but will make absolutely no sense to you if you haven’t read them all. And in order.
I have read them all. In order. Yet I still felt somewhat lost at the beginning as I tried to remember everything that had happened in the last book. Heartless picks up more or less where Blameless left off, with a very pregnant Alexia (she calls her unborn child “the infant inconvenience”) waddling around London and its environs, responding to mysteries, plots and crises as they arise. In this book, the vampires are trying to kill her because her unborn child is perceived as a threat, several ghosts are trying to convey a warning about danger to the queen, and Alexia’s friend Madame Lefoux seems hellbent on a mysterious and dangerous commission.
The vampire threat seems to be solved early in the book, when Lady Alexia’s husband, Lord Maccon, Lord Akeldama (her vampire friend), and Professor Lyall (Lord Maccon’s beta werewolf) present a solution: If Lady Maccon will allow her child to be adopted by Lord Akeldama, the vampires will be satisfied that the potentially dangerous creature will be in safe, vampire-friendly hands. Alexia reluctantly agrees, and they iron out a compromise that involves a move; Lord and Lady Maccon will appear to live next door, but will actually have their own small quarters in Lord Akeldama’s home. Once the logistics are ironed out, Alexia is free to concentrate on the threat to the queen, which may involve old history of her husband werewolf pack.
There are a few more plots going on, both of which involve characters we’ve met before. At the end of the last book, Lord Maccon was forced to turn Biffy into a werewolf. Biffy had been one of Lord Akeldama’s beloved drones (future vampires), and the transition to werewolf-dom is not going smoothly. Alexia’s friend Ivy, now married to an actor and enjoying a somewhat scandalous life, is pressed into service. And there’s something odd about Alexia’s annoying sister Felicity, who is pretending to be a suffragette and wants to take up residence in Alexia’s home.
That about sums up the plots. The first half of the book has an almost administrative feel. Alexia is essentially dealing with one problem after the other, all of which are somewhat exacerbated by her extremely pregnant state. She’s large and hungry all the time, but also determined not to let the infant inconvenience get in the way of her duties.
But it’s the latter part of the book that reminded me why these books are so fun, and why I got pulled in in the first place. I won’t reveal the details, but suffice it to say Alexia is confronted with a huge threat/challenge in the form of a giant mechanical octopus while her pregnancy reaches its inevitable conclusion. This is precisely the sort of exciting, inventive writing that made me love this series at the start.
Most likely, you already know whether or not you want to buy this book. If you’re invested in the series and still interested after the first three, I think you’ll find it well worth your time. Even if you find yourself playing catch up at the start, you’re sure to love the end. That said, you really can’t read this if you haven’t read the other books, and starting a new series does feel like a serious commitment. Though I’m not generally a big paranormal fan, I do enjoy these – partly because of the steampunk edge, but also because the characters are just plain fun. If you’re on the fence, you might also want to consider this: Heartless actually contains the line “Follow that porcupine!” And if that’s not intriguing, I don’t know what is.