I know you can be overwhelmed and I know you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be…whelmed?
10 Things I Hate About You summed up my overall feelings about the final novel in the Parasol Protectorate series, Timeless. I shot out of the fourth novel, Heartless, twitterpated on Professor Randolph Lyall and his newly revealed misadventures: his tragic love affair with Alessandro Tarabotti, his potential budding romance with Biffy, and an understated gruff bromance between him and Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings. I was in love. I hate to say it, but I was on the verge of fangirling.
As a side note, don’t get hung up on the long ridiculous names. Someone (and I don’t know who, but their decisions should be re-evaluated) gave Carriger permission to create the most ridiculous names to date, including Colindrikal-Bumbcruncher. The first time I had to read it, yeah sure, I laughed. The next three times had me wondering how much ink and page space could’ve been saved if she’d shortened the damn name to Colindrikal. Or Bumbcruncher. And that’s one of many other silly names.
Once I got my hands on that lovely yellow-color-schemed fifth book, I cracked it open, all ready to be wooed with all the itty bitty hints a fangirl could ask for to build the fangirl empire based around Favorite Character. Alas, I am a fickle fangirl.
And Timeless was acceptable, for the first thirty pages. Lady Maccon’s child Prudence has turned into an adventuresome spoiled poppet who hates baths and makes life for our wonderful Lord Akeldama hectic and surprising. Ivy Tunstell’s new play sports a bumblebee ballet that’s symbolic for everyone but the Maccons, who must be some kind of artistic snobs because if the Vampire Queen likes it there can’t be that much wrong with it. The Maccons receive summons from the Countess Nadasdy, who informs Alexia of another request directly from the Egyptian Queen Matakara requesting the presence of the ‘abomination’ and ‘soulless.’ Carriger wows us with the Countess attempting to turn one of her drones into a vampire, which misfires, but that’s no big deal when we’ve been handed another mystery to muddle through.
Lady Kingair, Alpha of the Lord Maccon’s old pack and his great-something granddaughter, has travelled to London to inform the Maccons that her Beta is missing. He finally turned up, looking weather beaten, dehydrated, and sunburned and then when left alone with Alexia’s long-time butler, Floote, for ten minutes somehow ends up mysteriously shot in the chest with sundowner bullets. Hmmm, the plot thickens!
I mean, if you don’t pick up what I’m laying down about whodunit, then I applaud your ability for turning a blind eye to the obvious and maintaining a sense of mystery for the story’s sake. Don’t let me be the one to spoil things for you.
Lord, Lady, and Baby Maccon travel to Egypt, splitting the viewpoints of the novel between their Egyptian travels and that of Biffy and Professor Lyall sorting out the dead Beta mess back in England. Unfortunately, here is where the story descends from overwhelming to simply whelmed status.
The saddened fangirl in me must be sated so I’ll begin with the Lyall/Biffy storyline. For the most part, I should have been happy. After all, Lyall and Biffy do end up getting together, but the love story fell too easily into place.
Alexia’s sister divulged to Lady Kingair and Biffy that she overheard about Lyall’s abuse at the hands of the old Woolsey Alpha. This sets off a series of events sending Lady Kingair on a murderous rampage, writing to Lord Maccon about Lyall’s betrayal, and then claiming Lyall as her own Beta as retribution. When I write it out as a one-sentence list, it seems intriguing, full of adventure, but in reality it continues to be simply ‘whelming.’ Unfortunately for me, I remembered that in the last novel Lyall and Channing warded the room with a sound disruptor device, thus allowing their conversation to remain secret so I’m still at a loss as to how Alexia’s sister ‘overheard’ about Lyall’s deeds. Discrepancies, how I hate thee.
Lyall and Biffy manage to hold off Kingair’s murderous rampage, Lyall explains himself to Kingair, and him and Biffy sweetly fall into bed together. It just seems too easy, like pandering to us panting fangirls desperately yearning for something erotic to happen. There’s awkwardness, some entertaining dialogue (also known as flirting), but it then seems like everyone knew about Lyall and Alessandro and the hell Lyall went through for the pack. It seems like shoulders are simply shrugged and cravats tied, and well, there you have it. Whelmed. Before, it appeared like no one had ever heard of Lyall and Alessandro being soul mates and that Lyall being abused was something simply not talked about out of respect for Lyall. Here, it just seems like a turning point that couldn’t be explored much because publishers only allotted a 350 page book and we were running out of space. I mean, Bumbcruncher could have been cut, but then that’s just my lowly opinion. To expand on my lowly opinion, I think a lot of parts of this novel should have been extrapolated upon and made into full scenes with dialogue instead of just a summarized retelling of events, but hey, I’m not the published author here.
Not to say that their storyline wasn’t entertaining. It was nice to see Lyall being emotional, still being haunted by Alessandro’s memory, but the overall emotional turmoil seemed to be lacking. It was as if Lyall knew what was coming all along and had prepared for. Not that I don’t doubt he’d have a backup plan, but it should’ve been at least a little bit startling for him. I wanted more revealed about Alessandro’s journals (still in Lyall’s possession), more of Channing working hard to protect Lyall, more of that spark that wrapped me up in the last book and wouldn’t let go. It felt as if a fangirl went ahead and wrote the sweet portions of the novel and yet forget the most important pieces of what would make a fangirl fangirl. It’s hard to explain, but there was something sorely lacking that made Biffy and Lyall’s affair come off as a one week fling.
Surprisingly, Alexia’s story took the reins of my interest. In Egypt, she met the suicidal Queen Matakara and uncovered that the God Breaker Plague was in reality a bunch of preternatural mummies arranged in an octopus shape. She also solved a baby-kidnapping, her husband almost died, and Prudence figured out how to say a whole sentence. I couldn’t believe the fact that I actually enjoyed Lord Maccon. For once, he wasn’t the barreling stocky Alpha male shouting commands at every step and engaging in the most poorly timed romantic overtures possible. There seemed to be some heart and soul to him that I haven’t seen in the past books. Prudence came off as an endearing toddler spoiled beyond anyone’s means, and the image of her turning into a werewolf cub and running around with a tutu on just warms the cockles of my heart. In a nutshell, Queen Matakara convinced the metanatural and the preternatural Maccon ladies to ensure her death, but the resulting battle to complete this goal resulted in Ivy being mortally wounded. Matakara turned her into the next vampire queen. Nice twist, I didn’t see that coming.
Our favorite French lesbian, Madam LeFoux was sadly misrepresented as her relationship with Alexia has fallen on hard times and will remain on the rocks for the foreseeable future. While Madame LeFoux harbors a one-that-got-away tenderness for Alexia, Alexia cannot alleviate her suspicions. The hatchet will never be buried and beyond Madame LeFoux’s halfhearted attempt at flirting, it seems Alexia’s soulless heart will never truly forgive Madame LeFoux for her indiscretion. Our awesome lesbian/straight girl adventure clearly has come to an end.
If this were a different kind of book, I’d be up in arms about the relationships. Yet, Carriger has proven that her writing stubbornly sidles toward not tying every relationship into a neat bow. While the mysteries may be solved and the plots neatly laid to rest, our characters still remain aloof and in turmoil with each other. I have to admire this tactic because it most likely reflects traditions of the Victorian age in a sense. Despite that, there’s some dark stuff lurking underneath this syrupy steampunk tale. I’ll give you a few:
- Floote’s murder of Kingair’s Beta is never quite explained. He explains his reasoning, sure, and then hightails it to Egypt to find Alexia. Then remains physically absent for the rest of the novel. We’re told he helped save Lord Maccon, but he never comes to Alexia to explain his actions, or even serve to highlight her father’s past. He’s simply gone,
- Lord Maccon’s potential insanity as he grows too old and his determination to move to Egypt so he can die mortal with Alexia. I mean, beyond being romantic, that’s a big decision for someone who’s been around for hundreds of years.
- Lyall’s self-imposed exile to Scotland, rendering his relationship with Biffy as a sobering long-distance affair. I can’t picture it going farther, a sentiment I believe Lyall shares. With all his secrets aired in the open, I believe he took advantage of the compassion at hand (aka Biffy) for one last fling before he immigrated to work for a pack he betrayed. I can only imagine the emotional and mental abuse he’ll suffer at their hands.
- Madame LeFoux’s rage at being forced to be a vampire drone. She’s touchy about the issue and seems unhappy with the arrangement, but none of her feelings of betrayal by Alexia manage to leak through. She’s very composed, our Madame LeFoux.
While I admire Carriger’s tactic in how to handle her characters, it frustrates me that these events and emotions will never be flushed out because we are in favor of more important things like Mr. Tunstell riding a mechanical ladybug with too tight trousers or what Alexia will do if forced to move permanently to Egypt (a tea tradeswoman, can it be so?). It’s due to these factors that Timeless, which should have been the crowning glory to the much beloved Heartless, will have to be talked about with wistfulness of what might have been and a half-hearted shrug.