This is the fifth (and final) book in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, and since I’ve written about the series here and here, I don’t have a lot to add, except this was one of my favorites. I enjoyed it for two reasons, the first being that Carriger doesn’t go for some really convoluted plot this time; in fact she uses this book to tie up some plot lines from the previous books.
Second, she really focuses on the characters, and in this book the characters are more likeable and well-rounded. In previous books, Carriger sometimes focuses so much on the witty banter, the characters are more stereotypical than real. In this book the characters are as funny as ever but they are also warmer, stronger, and the book is more about their friendships and relationships than it is about who’s wearing the best hat. And if you’ve read Carriger’s books, you know that hats are very, very important.
The third thing I liked is that most of the book is set in Egypt, and I love when a book gives me a taste of other places and other times. Having never been to Egypt (and even if I had this is Victorian-era Egypt) I can’t vouch for Carriger’s accuracy, but I definitely enjoyed seeing Egypt through Alexia’s eyes.
For the uninitiated, the series is about the adventures of Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural in Victorian England. A preternatural is a soulless being who can, with her touch, render a supernatural being human. Carriger points out that being a preternatural doesn’t go over so well in polite society, but fortunately Alexia’s friends are anything but polite society. Armed with her trusty 007-type parasol, Alexia fights the bad guys, saves England, and manages to help the werewolves and vampires co-exist in peace.
The reason to read Carriger, if you haven’t yet, is that her writing is clever and funny, and never takes itself seriously like most steampunk. As an example, here’s a passage from Chapter 2 where Alexia and Lord Maccon are attending her friend Ivy’s new play:
The Death Rains of Swansea featured a lovelorn werewolf enamored of a vampire queen and a dastardly villain with evil intent trying to tear them apart. The stage vampires were depicted with particularly striking fake fangs and a messy sort of red paint smeared about their chins. The werewolves sported proper dress except for large shaggy ears tied about their heads with pink tulle bows — Ivy’s influence, no doubt.
Ivy Tunstell, Alexia’s dear friend, played the vampire queen. She did so with much sweeping about the stage and fainting, her own fangs larger than anyone else’s, which made it so difficult for her to articulate that many of her speeches were reduced to mere spitting hisses. She wore a hat that was part bonnet, part crown, driving home the queen theme, in colors of yellow, red, and gold. Her husband, playing the enamored werewolf, pranced about in a comic interpretation of lupine leaps, barked a lot, and got into several splendid stage fights.
The oddest moment, Alexia felt, was a dreamlike sequence just prior to the break, wherein Tunstall wore bumblebee striped drawers with attached vest and performed a small ballet before his vampire queen… Conall, at this juncture, began to shake uncontrollably.
In this book we start to get to know Prudence, Alexia’s daughter. Alexia’s learning about Prudence’s powers and personality just as we are. As in the previous book, Alexia is less a doting mother than a practical one, which I also appreciate. She cares about her daughter, of course, but doesn’t put her above all of her friends, family, and husband (of course it helps that Alexia brings along a team of people to care for her child). But even if she’s a somewhat indifferent mother, when her friend Ivy’s daughter is in danger, she immediately puts everything on the line to help her friend.
The last thing I’ll say I really enjoyed about this book was, just as the rest of the characters seemed more well-rounded, Carriger doesn’t give us a dastardly villain either. There are mysteries to be solved, but the villains are people we can sympathize with. Moral ambiguity is something I always appreciate in a book, even in fluffy steampunk.
Carriger’s books certainly aren’t literature, but this one’s a satisfying conclusion to a fun and highly entertaining series.