It’s the fourth book of “The Parasol Protectorate”, and only the first time that phrase is mentioned in the series. Also known as the “Alexia Tarabotti” novels (though she’s been Lady Maccon since her marriage), they relate the racy, dangerous adventures of a soulless, or preternatural, lady in a steampunk version of Victorian England. Being preternatural means she can turn vampires and werewolves mortal with a touch; she can even exorcise ghosts. Being the wife of Conal Maccon, Alpha werewolf of the Woolsey Pack, means that she has influence over one segment of the Greater London supernatural set. Her seat on the Queen’s secret Shadow Council, as muhjah (representing the preternatural interest), gives her unusual (for a woman) influence over government policy. And her unprecedented pregnancy, the fruit of a cross-species mating with a werewolf, makes her a threat to the undead status quo.
In a twisted alternate world, the Dragonlands are situated between the Kingdom of Hereford and the Duchy of Brecon, in the west of a balnkanized version of England and Wales known as the Ununited Kingdoms. It’s a world where magic is slowly dying out, its practitioners reduced to delivering pizzas on flying carpets and rewiring houses by spell.
What do a wearh, a manjasang, a nachzehrer, and an alukah have in common? In this sequel to “A Discovery of Witches”, we find out that they are all words for “vampire” used across 16th century Europe, from Oxfordshire to the Auvergne to the Jewish Quarter of Prague. Present-day American witch Diana Bishop has the opportunity to learn about them, not only as a post-doctoral scholar of the history of alchemy, but also as the time-traveling wife of a vampire prince known by just as many names: Mattieu de Clermont, Matthew Roydon, Sebastian St. Clair, Gabriel ben Ariel… One accumulates aliases when one has lived a thousand years or two.
In Book 2 of the “Parasol Protectorate,” a racy supernatural riff on Victorian steampunk, something has taken the fangs out of London’s werewolves and vampires. No worries! Lady Maccon (formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti) is on the case. In her role as the preternatural adviser to Her Majesty’s Shadow Council—a role she earned by being the only soulless, supernatural-powers-neutralizing, respectable married lady in town—she gate-crashes a reunion between her werewolf husband and his former pack, somewhere in the southern Scottish Highlands.
Some trilogies are open-ended. When the author decides to add a fourth book to it, we start to call it the So-and-So Quartet. Since fans of a series are unlikely to regret the arrival of a new installment, this sort of thing is usually embarrassing only to publishers who have invested money in packaging the first three books as the So-and-So Trilogy, and to unsparingly critical readers who notice (sometimes) that the fourth book isn’t quite as good. But what do we do when a trilogy comes to a very definite, final end—like, for example, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, whose human protagonist John Mandrake made the final sacrifice at the end of book three? (Oops. Spoilers!) How does the author get away with adding a fourth book to the series? It’s easy, actually. He makes it a prequel. And he makes it good.
The author of “Lily’s Ghosts” brings us a book so funny that it hurts, set in a magical world so weird that it can only be New York City. She doesn’t come right out and name it, though. She describes it as “a vast and sparkling city, a city at the center of the universe.” But it’s also a city that has grown upward because the natural moat around it prevents it from spreading outward; a city with skyscrapers, subways, a Little Italy, a Chinatown, a Radio City Music Hall, a Times Square, and a Brooklyn Bridge.
In Book 3 of the “Bartimaeus” trilogy, a seventeen-year-old magician named Nathaniel, though he calls himself John Mandrake, has clawed his way nearly to the top of a world of (sometimes literally) backstabbing ambition. It’s an alternate-history version of present-day Britain, where magicians are the ruling class and the non-magical “commoners” toil in conditions not far above slavery.
In the sequel to “Flora Segunda”, Flora Fyrdraaca ov Fyrdraaca, fourteen-year-old heroine of an alternate-history version of San Francisco called Califa, finds out what her true name is. And while I’m mentioning it, I might add that the full title of this book is “Flora’s Dare: How a Girl of Spirit Gambles All to Expand Her Vocabulary, Confront a Bouncing Boy Terror, and Try to Save Califa from a Shaky Doom (Despite Being Confined to Her Room).”
In book 3 of the second quartet of “Thursday Next” novels, we find Swindon U.K.’s greatest literary detective facing a vast array of mid-life challenges, such as controlling the residual pain in the leg she broke in her previous adventure, not being bitter when command of the newly re-organized Spec Ops literary division is handed to a younger agent, settling into a new career as director of the Wessex All You Can Eat at Fatso’s (Drink Not Included) Library Service, and having trouble remembering to visit the body-art parlor to ask why she got a tattoo reminding her that her daughter Jenny is a mind worm created by a super-villain able to tamper with people’s memories.
If a boxed set of “Harry Potter” were to fall through the looking-glass, what came out the other side might be a lot like the “Bartimaeus Trilogy”, of which this is Book 2. The fantasy world in this series is somewhat of a bizarro, backward-land version of Harry’s wizarding world, which forms a secret enclave within the present-day world of us ordinary muggles. In Bartimaeus’ world, the British empire is openly run by magicians, while the majority of the population—dismissively called “commoners”—toils in a condition not far above slavery.