My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.10 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 3.98 / 5.00
Book 2 of "The Parasol Protectorate"
If you have not read Book 1: Soulless I strongly suggest that you avoid this review. My review for Soulless is here.
Alexia Tarabotti, now Lady Maccon, is trying to come to terms with being Alpha female to the Woolsey pack when her husband dashes off on urgent BUR business. Unable to discover what the fuss is all about she goes down to breakfast only to find most of the Coldstream Guards setting up tents on her front lawn. Now she has to deal with the highly irritating Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings, mostly by beating him with her trusty parasol. Meanwhile a most unusual plague of normality has hit London: all the werewolves and vampires within a certain area have been returned to their human forms, whilst the ghosts have been exorcised. Queen Victoria demands that Alexia, in her role as Her Majesty’s Muhjah, investigate this plague and return the Empire to its previous happy state of supernatural dominance. As the investigation continues, Alexia finds herself travelling to that most appalling home of all that is tasteless: Scotland. She is accompanied by Miss Hisselpenny, who has just become engaged, but who still has a deplorable selection of hats; her sister Felicity, who has been so unbearable about their younger sister Evylin’s impending marriage that their mother has thrown her out of the house; Madame Lefoux a cross-dressing manufacturer of tasteful hats and usefully armed parasols; and Tunstell, one of Lord Maccon’s clavigers. They travel via dirigible, surviving several attempts on her life only to meet the redoubtable Lady Kingair, Alpha of the Scottish pack.
I am pleased to say that Ms Carriger has lost none of the wit and humor that she displayed in Soulless. Having much less exposition to deal with, we get a more detailed view of Alexia’s world and her relationship with Conall. It is always interesting to see if a romance relationship can still be realistic after the couple has ‘ridden off into the sunset’. Their dynamic has changed slightly, but there is still a lot of humor, frustration and sexual electricity: and we see how Alexia deals with being pack Alpha. The sections where Conall is proud of how strong she is are quite cute. She remains as strong and independent as she was in the first book, controlling her husband with a deft hand and beating Major Channing into submission when he dares to flirt with her. She has not become a simpering wife, thank goodness, but continues to be a worthy mate to the most powerful werewolf in the country.
The secondary cast continues to be strong. Unlike Shara at Calico Reaction, I didn’t find Ivy all that irritating: rather, I found her attempts at drama and attention-seeking funny, as they were met by indifference or snarky comments from Alexia. Indeed, Felicity was the one I wanted to throw over the side of the dirigible as she continued to make snide remarks about Alexia. Sparky at Fangs for the Fantasy has some objections about the portrayal of the gay characters. I agree that Lord Akeldama is almost a caricature of homosexuality: but I’m never quite sure how much of this is an act that he uses to disarm people. As for Madame Lefoux and her suits, this does seem a stereotypical way to portray a lesbian, but she is not described as being overly mannish or butch, although she does mimic a lot of male behaviors.
Kristen at Fantasy Cafe notes that the ending of the novel, which made me glad that I had book 3: Blameless to hand, also showed how much she was invested in Alexia. My anger and outrage was also proportionate with how much I really like this character and want her to be happy. As both Kristen and Lotte at Love Vampires note, there is much more steampunk on display in this book than the first: we have the dirigible, plus strange aethographic transmitters that allow long distant communications. As a sad scientist, I found the descriptions of these devices and how they work quite fascinating.
My major criticism, apart from the shocking ending, is that the source of the mysterious plague is all too easy to guess, which I found a little disappointing.