Fiction 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.