My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
Book 3 of "The Parasol Protectorate"
If you have not read the first two books in the series I strongly suggest that you avoid this review. My reviews for them are here and here.
Once again Alexia is the scandal of London society. This time it is because she has left her husband and returned to the welcoming bosom of her loving family. However, when her family become aware of her ‘condition’, they do the most loving thing that they can think of and throw her out onto the street. Heading to the one person who will be happy to accommodate her scandalous personage, Alexia finds that Lord Akeldama has disappeared in a flurry of haste, although he has left her a mysterious message: “Check the cat”! As she drives away, trying to decide what to do next, she is attacked by a cloud of venomous, mechanical ladybugs that seem very determined to remove her housing problem permanently.
As she is obviously in mortal danger, with no hope of protection from Conall, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She needs to find out how she could be in possession of the ‘infant inconvenience’ and the only people who might have an answer are the Templars in Italy. Aided by Madame Lefoux and the ever-resourceful Floote, Alexia sneaks out of London to find proof that her stupid husband has made a terrible mistake and should be thoroughly ashamed of questioning her fidelity. Not that she wants him back: she just wants to make him admit that he was wrong!
Meanwhile, Lord Macon is dealing with the situation in the best way possible: by staying completely drunk.
As with the second book, Changeless, we see Alexia’s world expanding. Geographically, we move through France and Italy, which allows us to see how these two cultures have reacted differently to the total acceptance of the supernatural races that we see in Britain. This increases the complexity of the world quite significantly, especially once we get to Italy, which has little resemblance to our version of the country. The Italians actively seek out and destroy any supernaturals that they discover, using the magical properties of pesto to protect themselves. The whole idea that pesto is a way to make a person unpalatable to both races is simply delightful and indicative of how Ms Carriger’s fiendish mind works.
We also see a massive expansion in Alexia herself, and I do not mean in the size of her abdomen. As a preternatural, she had always assumed that she was basically heartless, but here we see that she feels emotions very deeply indeed. She is totally distraught by Conall’s rejection and refusal to believe her. She finds this all the more frustrating because she cannot think of a reason why she should be able to be pregnant by a man who is basically dead. Her grief and frustration turns to anger and she holds onto that fierceness whenever she falters. It is also very touching to see how she develops feelings for the ‘infant inconvenience’ as time goes on and she starts to become more comfortable with the idea of her situation. Kristen, at Fantasy Cafe, notes that some reviewers expressed dissatisfaction at the ending. I agree with her that it seemed perfectly in character to me: I think the problem may have been that Alexia is not a typical Romantic heroine and so she does not always act as we might expect.
Conall is given a rather minor role, which mostly consists of drinking vast quantities of formaldehyde in order to stay insensible. However, this allows the wonderful Professor Lyall to shine as he takes control of the Pack, tries to support his Alpha and solve the mysteries of the ladybug attacks and the disappearance of Lord Akeldama. To add to his troubles, various powerful werewolves attempt to steal the Alpha position whilst Conall is unavailable. Of course, Lyall rises to the challenge wonderfully and it was nice to see him acting independently. The same could be said of Ivy, who steps in to run Madame Lefoux's hat shop during their trip to Europe. She is now married to Tunstell and we see her being sensible and thinking for herself, which reminds us why Alexia chose her as a friend in the first place. Even Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings manages to develop and become less of an irritation.
We are introduced to several new characters, two of whom are other members of the Order of the Brass Octopus that Madame Lefoux seeks out for help. The first is her cousin, Gustave Trouve, who they meet in Paris. He is delightful and a faithful helper, even though he was the manufacturer of the deadly ladybugs. Later we encounter Mr Lange-Wilsdorf, a thoroughly repellent German who refers to Alexia as the ‘Female Specimen’ all the time, and seems to be unaware that she is a real person. He also has a horrible little dog that creates havoc and comes to the most glorious end: honestly, you will laugh out loud when you read it! However, I have to agree with Shara at Calico Reaction that the stand out character in the book is Floote. He turns out to be a seriously useful person to have around in a battle, as he remains totally unemotional and levelheaded throughout all the disasters that befall them. He is a glorious combination of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and James Bond: I want to see more of him in the later books, much more.
Unfortunately, we see very little of the spectacular Lord Akeldama. However, once he does arrive we are treated to some wonderfully romantic and poignant moments between him and Biffy. As Sparky says at Fangs for the Fantasy, it is beautiful to see their love for one another, and I am so pleased that such an open and honest homosexual relationship is treated with care and dignity. Lord Akeldama is a truly amazing character and to be allowed to glimpse behind his facade was genuinely touching.
Final factoid: in the UK, there are no ladybugs because we call them ladybirds!