Tender moments, full-throttle action, creative world building, blood-and-guts, unexpected turns and surprises, a critique of manners, gadgets, zombie porcupines, an octomaton, a bevy of assassination attempts, Full Moon extravaganzas, weapons-grade pickled herring - Heartless has about everything you could ask of an urban fantasy steampunk mystery set in the Victorian era. I'm now 80 percent of the way through the five-book Parasol Protectorate series and have enjoyed myself throughout.
As with the first three books, Carriger utilizes P.G. Wodehouse-inspired slapstick, plays on Victorian manners, and fun characters to tell her story. But Heartless adds something surprising (at least for me) to the mix - a relational tenderness between men/werewolves that brought me fearfully close to tears on multiple occasions. Lord Maccon's emotion-laden struggle to integrate Biffy into the pack offers my favorite example. As an exhausted Conall climbs into bed after hours spent comforting Biffy during another excruciatingly painful change, Carriger writes beautifully:
"[Alexia's] big, strong husband who had spent the night holding on to a boy afraid of change. Who had coached that boy through a pain Conall could no longer remember. Who had forced Biffy to realize he must give up his love [of Lord Akeldama] or he would lose all of his remaining choices. Her big, strong husband who curled up close against her back and cried, not because of what Biffy suffered but because he, Conall Maccon, had caused that suffering."
And then there's Lyall's reflective musings on love:
"Things are never good when immortals fall in love. Mortals end up dead, one way or another, and we are left alone again. Why do you think the pack is so important? Or the hive, for that matter. It is not simply a vehicle for safety; it is a vehicle for sanity, to stave off loneliness."
Heartless is chock full of such moments.
Fans of Carriger's humorous side won't be disappointed with Heartless either. She describes the approaching full moon as "that time of the month" for werewolves. And Alexia's infant-inconvenience-induced clumsiness throughout the octomaton sequence got plenty of laughs out of me. But it's the touching depiction of relationships between men that will stay with me.
Heartless is a very strong addition to the Tarabotti series. I recommend it highly.