[A Word of Caution: While every effort has been made to ensure the minimization of the prevalence of spoilers and their harmful effects, they are impossible to avoid all together, this being a review of the fifth in a series. Therefore, if you have not yet had the pleasure of partaking in Soulless or Changeless or Blameless or Heartless, by one Ms Gail Carriger, you are humbly advised to do so post-haste, and perhaps before reading this review.]
It really is in the end of an era. For the past few years, it has been such an inestimable pleasure to look forward to a new installment in Gail Carriger’s increasingly delightful and twisty Parasol Protectorate series once or twice a year, and then to actually experience each new chapter that I found myself deliberately slowing down while reading this, the final installment, Timeless. Although I was as simultaneously captivated and tickled pink by the brilliant steampunk world and outlandishly lovable characters of Carriger’s supernaturally comedic (and often comedically supernatural) saga as ever and couldn’t wait to discover all of the wonderful revelations and full-circles and dangling-thread-tyings that eventually come to pass by the end of the book (really, I couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect final scene and ending scenario for Our Heroine), I also dreaded reaching the end. It kept striking me: this is the last first time I will ever read a Parasol Protectorate book. By the time I got to the last few pages, my pacing had slowed down to the point that I was practically experiencing the story in real time.
What makes Timeless such a wonderful conclusion is that it gives us, in turn, exactly what we would want from the conclusion to such a series–final visits from all of our favorite characters, answers to some long-running questions, a satisfying wrap-up that closes off the story in the short-term while still hinting at the many future adventures that these characters can continue to have off-stage (and both prequel and sequel series are already in the works!)–as well as things that we didn’t even realize we wanted. For example, the novel includes one romantic pairing that I never saw coming and which I might have actively objected to a few books back but which feels so right and makes so much sense now, given how these characters have evolved, that I came close to cheering out loud in public while reading it.
And that really is one of the main pleasures ofTimeless and really all of the Parasol Protectorate novels post-Soulless–namely watching the characters develop organically over the course of the series, eventually taking actions of which we wouldn’t have thought them capable when we first met them. Biffy is a perfect example. All the way back in Soulless, the foppish young lad was simply one of the divine Lord Akeldama’s human supplicants, albeit his most distinctive. Twists and turns of fate, however, at first forced him into directions he never would have planned for himself and then caused him to grow to the point that, by the time I was halfway through Timeless, I couldn’t imagine a better fate for Biffy. Not only is he so prominent in this novel that he practically deserves a co-star credit to Alexia but he also becomes so much more than he ever would have been had life gone the way he had expected. Bringing Biffy out from behind the fabulous Akeldama’s shadow stands out as one of the smartest decisions Carriger has made as a writer up to this point–which is saying a great deal, because she’s made a lot of smart decisions–because it has allowed him to shine in ways he never would have otherwise. Meanwhile, other unexpectedly heroic characters continue to prove their mettle, such as Ivy, who is still as silly as ever but also consistently surprises with how brave, singleminded, and surreptitiously intelligent she can be, when it comes down to it.
And luckily, as entertaining as the subplots are, the central plot proves to be equally thrilling, if not more so, involving a trip to Egypt to meet with one of the oldest vampire queens in existence. She is eager to meet Alexia and Conall’s daughter, who, as we learned at the end of the fourth book, is a whole new type of species all together: a metanatural. What this ancient vampiress wants with Prudence constitutes one of the novel’s main mysteries, along with what her vampire hive and Alexia’s deceased father’s connections to the Godbreaker Curse (a mystery that has recurred throughout the series) could possibly be. As suspenseful and page-turning a plot as this proves to be, putting our beloved Maccons and their nearest and dearest into some extremely dicey when not outright life-threatening situations, the characters always emerge first and foremost as the main draw of the series, as they should. This novel resumes two years after the previous one left off and the opportunity to see how Alexia has been adjusting to motherhood in this time is worth the price of admission alone. Her honest reactions to her extremely difficult child are so very Alexia. Thankfully and unsurprisingly, given how obstinate she is, Alexia hasn’t allowed motherhood to change her into a simpering pod person. It might have even given her a stronger bite than before, which, again, is saying something. Carriger’s voice throughout the novel is still just as smart and funny as it ever was. At times, I laughed, I gasped, I even cried.
I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect and fitting final chapter in The Parasol Protectorate. It’s the sort of finale that makes you want to instantly go back and re-read the entire series, to re-experience the plethora of moments you loved so much, as well as to note the development of all of the various characters and plots, given the knowledge you have of what happens later. Part loving homage to oh so many various influences, part loving character study, part ingenious creation in its own right, The Parasol Protectorate has finally reached its conclusion–a conclusion that, unsurprisingly, given Carriger’s talent and ingenuity, finally unites the complete saga into one satisfying whole. I am sad to leave Alexia Tarrabotti behind but I also look forward to further sagas in the same universe. Carriger’s novels are ones that I imagine I’ll be following for a very long time to come.