Mar 6 2012 10:00am

Last Call for the Parasol: Timeless by Gail Carriger

Timeless by Gail CarrigerFiction series should be like guests. There comes a point in the evening when everyone knows the conversation has died, the hostess is yawning, and someone has just said, “Well...” Sadly, there is often someone in the room who knows the truth, but wants to avoid it. They don’t get out enough. They don’t want to go home. They’re enjoying the company. They’re socially obtuse. For whatever reason, someone starts the conversation up again.

It’s awkward, because we all know it’s over. Sometimes this happens in the doorway, as guests are leaving. A witty remark gets made, and banter ensues. Significant others glare, or roll their eyes. The party has jumped the shark.

Thankfully, as anyone who’s been to one of her parties can attest, Gail Carriger knows how to handle a party. And she knows when it’s time to shut it down. 

I love the Parasol Protectorate. As literary parties go, it’s been a blast. And while I’m very sad to see it all come to an end, I’m glad Carriger isn’t stringing this one out. With Timeless, Carriger concludes a series many of us have grown to love, all the while struggling to explain to others what we were reading:

“It’s a paranormal romance . . . but not like Twilight. And it’s a steampunk adventure . . . but not like Wild, Wild, West. It’s like . . .  it’s like . . .”

It’s Bram Stoker, Wilkie Collins, and Jane Austen playing Dungeons and Dragons with Terry Pratchett for a DM. It’s like Being Human if the show were crossed with Sherlock and Fawlty Towers. It’s like Underworld with bustles and lace instead of tight leather. We shove the book into your hands at this point and assure you, “Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.” 

And now it’s coming to an end.

I spent the last month at the Steampunk Scholar paying tribute to Gail Carriger’s entire Parasol Protectorate series; simultaneously, I was writing an article titled, “Useful Troublemakers: Social Retrofuturism in the Steampunk novels of Gail Carriger and Cherie Priest” for a forthcoming academic anthology on steampunk. So needless to say, I’ve had Carriger on the brain.

But even as the scholarly side of me was busy analyzing how Alexia embodies a steampunk take on the Victorian New Woman, the Parasol Protectorate fanboy in me was wondering how it was all going to end. Would Carriger be brave enough to kill a major character? Would the Maccons have one last fantastic row to end their marriage so that Madame LeFoux could swoop in to ride off into the aether with Alexia? And, as a father, how was that baby girl doing?

The baby girl is a toddler, the Maccons do have a fantastic row, and Madame LeFoux does make one last bid for Alexia’s affections, but none of these should come as spoilers. Instead, we should know to expect these moments by now. Timeless is a delightful series of character moments akin to Kramer’s awkward entrances on Seinfeld: we know they’re coming, but they still make us laugh, or cry, or resist flipping to the end to see how it all comes out (we’re always thwarted in this, because Orbit has a preview from some other book or the next installment at the back). The difference is, NBC didn’t know when to stop having Kramer burst in. Maybe Seinfeld didn’t jump the shark, but it wore out it’s welcome on the landing. 

I haven’t grown tired of Lord Akeldama’s italics, or Ivy’s hats. I am unsurprised when Lord Maccon has a shouting fit and Alexia worries over their future, but it’s nowhere near another Ross and Rachel breakup. When Biffy ends up finally finding his place in the world, it fits. It isn’t Worf and Troi. 

In short, Gail Carriger knows how to throw a hell of a party, but also knows the right time to announce “last call.” 

And I know I’m not really talking about the book itself, but that’s because no one wants to hear details about the party while they’re still on their way. It sucks to get text about how fantastic the wine is while you’re stuck in traffic. Like a German Advent calendar, there’s a surprise in every chapter. It’s a spoiler-fest waiting to happen. I’ll let it suffice to say that, unlike Lost, you’ll get answers. Loose threads will get dealt with. And Carriger plays with shades of Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned, though I’ve always felt Lord Akeldama was Tom Cruise as Lestat channeling Sean Hayes as Jack McFarland.  

And yes, Carriger has the courage to kill someone. Or two. But one of those killings is purely social, and you’ll cheer when it happens. You’ll bite your hand for the other one. 

I had to go there. Gail needed a “DUMBLEDORE DIES?” moment. 

But don’t despair. The end is the beginning is the end. Even as I turned the last page and met the words, “If you enjoyed Timeless . . .” I knew the journey wasn’t over. In addition to the ad for the Manga of Soulless on the inside of the back cover (which is awesome — the sunset scene with Akeldama choked me up), Carriger announced some time ago that she had sold two new series: both are set in the same universe as the Parasol Protectorate. As she said recently at her blog, since many of the characters are immortal, we’re likely to see them again come 2013 when the Finishing School series starts up with Etiquette and Espionage.  

But for now, the party is over. And while I was sad to say goodbye to these characters, every goodbye was a grand one. I know I’m preaching to the converted, because the naysayers are skipping this post (and are uninvited to the party, so leave your snark on some other page), but it’s nice to gush nonetheless. Those of you who love it already, will love it. Those of you who don’t...well, we at the party just feel bad you aren’t having as much fun as we are.

Thanks for the party, Gail. We look forward to the next soirée

Mike Perschon is a hypercreative scholar, musician, writer, and artist, a doctoral student at the University of Alberta, and on the English faculty at Grant MacEwan University.

1. dwndrgn
I'm anxiously awaiting my copy (I'm sixth in a line of 8) at my library. I'm also very happy she's spinning off into the same world. I like it there.
2. StochasticBird
The books can be entertaining if you get past the tone-deaf dialogue, but I can't forgive her for lifting an extended (as in 6 or 7 pages) scene directly from The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer, especially when that scene is better-written than most of what Carriger comes up with on her own. It's a pretty galling piece of plagiarism.
3. Lucia
@StochasticBird -- wait, she did what? That's very disappointing, I love The Grand Sophy and all of Georgette Heyer's books. What scene did she take?
Mike Perschon
4. Mike_Perschon
I'm curious as well, since I'm unfamiliar with Georgette Heyer's work. Is it an act of plagiarism, or an homage/pastiche/parody? This is the question that needs answering.
5. StochasticBird
The scene from the Grand Sophy, where Sophy takes her annoying sister-in-law-to-be for a drive through "scandalous" neighborhoods, is reproduced almost word for word in one of the Carriger books. There's a bit of dialogue about how the annoying friend(Carriger)/sister-in-law(Heyer)'s "credit" in society is good enough to carry them off through anything and then she loses her temper and drives off. I think it's in the second book in the Soulless series, but it's been a while - I read the Carriger book first, then read the Grand Sophy later and got quite the shock. The dialogue, the scene, the interactions, are reproduced nearly exactly. I don't have the Carriger books any more, unfortunately, so I can't find the page for you (sorry - I know this would be much more helpful if I could).

I've never heard anything from the author as to it being a deliberate homage, though that's certainly a possibility. It is reproduced with enough similarity that I have trouble believing it's accidental. If it's credited in the Carriger book and is an open homage, I'm going to feel like quite the ass :-).
6. Lucia
Well, that's incredibly disappointing. I could see a lot of inspiration from Heyer in the three Parasole books I've read, but an outright plagiarism is very sad. Heyer's books are already ignored enough, to see them ripped is just another insult.
Mike Perschon
7. Mike_Perschon
I'd like to nip this in the bud right now. Stochastic Bird thinks this is what occurred, but in the absence of actual page numbers and a close-read comparison, this is simply speculation. So before it turns into muckracking, let's make sure we've proven plagiarism before moving on. As a professor, I can attest that one ensures it's plagiarism before making the accusation.

For my part, I have it on good authority that Carriger has never read Heyer, so we've effectively ruled out homage or pastiche, and I would argue, until someone comes up with evidence to the contrary, plagiarism.
8. StochasticBird
Found the first few books at the library; I'll get back to you if/when I find the page numbers.
11. Mouette
I just finished rereading all the parasol books and I don't remember coming across a scene like the one Stochastic describes. Think it might have just been literary deja vu?

Because Alexia does not have any friends with high 'credit' in society who would have that dialogue - her only real friends are Ivy and Lord Akeldama, and later, Madame Lefoux. Akeldama is high society, but an eccentric, and regardless does not or would not drive off in a huff of temper, leaving Alexia in a scandalous neighborhood. Ivy starts out the series as a low-end-of-high-society girl and ends up married to an actor; she doesn't have the sort of social credit Stochastic described, either. Madame Lefoux is in trade, so she isn't the friend with high society credit.

I don't even remember there being a drive through a scandalous neighborhood in the books, and not one where anyone left in a huff.

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