Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Heartless by Gail Carriger

One almost sunny evening on June 30th 2011, I found myself in Amsterdam with some time to kill before going to listen to Stephen Fry talk about his new autobiography, The Fry Chronicles. The boyfriend decided that he wanted to purchase a copy of this book prior to the talk, so we headed off to The American Book Center. There, not only did we find Fry’s autobiography, but I also found Heartless staring at me from the shelves. Now, I will admit that I find this cover awfully ugly, but my desire to know what would happen to Lord and Lady Maccon, the infant inconvenience, Akeldama, Biffy, Lyall, Ivy, and so on pushed me to purchase the book against my reservations.

As with most books that I purchase, it ended up sitting quietly on my shelves for a time while I made my way through other books. Last week I decided that it was high time I took on this fourth Alexia Tarabotti book so that I could stow away books 2 and 4 with books 1 and 3 and then conveniently forget all about her until the fifth and (supposedly) final book is released in early 2012. As a bit of a side track, I opened up Heartless and discovered the cover art for Timeless. If I thought Heartless was bad, Timeless really takes the cake! I don’t think that I have ever seen a fantasy cover that I consider that ugly. Each cover seems to have got progressively worse (excepting Blameless. I rather like the cover art on that one.)

I went into Heartless after not having really appreciated Changeless and expected much the same case with this book. With a heavy heart, I plunged in…

Presentation: Mass market paperback. There are 374 pages broken down into a prologue and 17 chapters. Unlike in previous books, Heartless only really follows Alexia’s PoV, though a ghost does get a few paragraphs at the end of some chapters.

*Please note that this is the fourth book in a series and as such lack of knowledge of events in previous books may make this a little hard to follow.*

Story: Alexia, now 8 months pregnant, finds herself agreeing to Lord Akeldama adopting her as-yet unborn child in an attempt to stem the flow of vampire attacks on her person.  However, she also decides that she will be joining the child and taking up residence in the vampire’s humble abode. Her husband, realising she intends to only spend two days a week with him in the pack’s castle outside London, purchases the townhouse next door to Akeldama’s residence to be the pack’s residence in the city.

Newly moved into the new residence, Alexia receives a ghostly warning that the Queen is in danger. Despite her current very pregnant state, Alexia launches into an investigation of just what could be threatening the queen: an investigation that takes her down memory lane and uncovers a few pack secrets that might have been better left undisturbed.

Thoughts and impressions: The plot in this one was a sight better than that of Changeless and Blameless. Unfortunately it still wasn’t that great and some of the more defining moments were based on Alexia uncharacteristically overlooking important things, which was somewhat of a disappointment. I enjoyed her pregnancy and some of the humorous situations that came from it. The best part of the story may have been when Alexia initiated Ivy Tunstell into the Parasol Protectorate. On the down side, she then sent Ivy off to Scotland and she didn’t make another appearance in the book; a shame as Ivy is a fun character. In fact, a lot of the previously important characters took a bit of a backseat for this book: Madame Lefoux only had a limited role as well as Ivy and Felicity was kind of there but ignored most of the time.

The humour remains the same in each book and it is becoming tired rather than really remaining amusing. With this book I noticed that it is often very dependent on similes and usually the images conjured up are more cringe-worthy than actually being funny. The book did, however, contain what is possibly the best quote of the last three books: “By the end, Rafe wore the long-suffering look of an eagle being ordered about by a flock of excited pigeons.” The only laugh out loud moments were towards the start of the book and there were only two or three of them.

I would have liked to have seen an actual resolution to Felicity’s subplot, but, as always, she is just cast to one side and conveniently forgotten about.

Book five is currently planned as being the final book in the series. It’s got to the point where it needs to wrap up so this is probably for the best.

Style: Ok, diving into the humour debate here. This is not British humour. It irks me to see it classed as British humour. I am British, I think I know what my humour is like. I am a firm believer that, though it is possible to come to appreciate another culture’s humour, it is not possible to adopt that humour as your own. Your humour will inevitably be that of the culture that you were brought up in. This is dry American wit. That I didn’t find this particularly funny coupled with the fact that a lot of the reviews I scanned where people claim to have giggled their way through the book came from American reviewers and not British ones, seems to back up my point. I actually found the dark humour in Darkly Dreaming Dexter to be far funnier than the dry wit presented in The Parasol Protectorate.

It has come to my attention that the language in the book is strictly American English because the publishers require it to be so. Why?! Would the poor American audience really be that stumped if they come across “travelled” instead of “traveled”? Because obviously it cannot possibly mean the same thing if the word has an extra ‘l’ in it! What about “the top step” instead of “stoop”? Stoop is actually a word that a lot of British people do not know because it comes from the Dutch word ‘stoep’ (meaning pavement or sidewalk depending on which side of the pond you come from) and entered American English from the Dutch settlers there. Dutch hasn’t had much of an influence on British English so this word is not part of our general vocabulary.  Frankly, it is annoying to be faced with British aristocracy who speak a mix of present day American and period English. It should be one or the other, not a mix of both.

As mentioned, the humour is getting old and isn’t particularly funny anymore. A lot of what is meant to be humorous really just leaves me wondering how on earth anyone could actually find that funny.

Final verdict: Mediocre. Better than books 2 and 3, probably about on par with book 1. I cannot say I really enjoyed it but I didn’t feel like it was a mental slog to get through it either. 3 stars.

Extra notes: Occasional minor language; no sex (due to Alexia being so far along in her pregnancy one would assume). Suitable for older teens and up.


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