Monday, August 01, 2011

“Changeless” & “Blameless” by Gail Carriger (Orbit)


Reviewed by Alyssa

Alexia Tarabotti is back with a vengeance

Changeless: Lady Alexia is rudely awoken in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find rather peculiar events transpiring. Her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, is yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears – leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared – upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can.

She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it.

When I read Gail Carriger’s Soulless last year, I was delighted. It was fresh, and funny, and utterly original. Since then, I have lent my copy of the book to two friends and bought another for a third - this is a novel you want to share. With the strength of her debut, Carriger set herself quite a challenge for the rest of her series, but Changeless and Blameless, the next two books, not only meet but surpass the high standard of the Soulless. The second and third volumes of The Parasol Protectorate series are every bit as funny as the first, but with an added emotional depth. These books are unlike anything else out there, and they are marvellous. [There are very minor spoilers in this review.]

Blameless: Quitting her husband’s house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Alexia becomes the scandal of the London season. Not only does Queen Victoria dismiss her from the Shadow Council, but the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs - indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London’s vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires - and they're armed with pesto.

Changeless and Blameless take Alexia beyond the world of London high society, first to Scotland (in Changeless), and then to Paris, Nice, and Florence. As Carriger expands her world, she introduces her readers to Scottish werewolves, French inventers (some of whom seem to be the steampunk versions of mad scientists), and Italian vampire-hunting religious zealots. Alexia finally gets the chance to ride in a dirigible, as well as a number of other newfangled travelling contraptions.

In addition to Alexia and Connall Maccon, we see the return of engaging minor characters such as Professor Lyall (Lord Maccon’s Beta werewolf) and Floote the butler, and the introduction of Madame Lefoux, a cross-dressing hat-maker (whose creations are frequently more dangerous than they appear) who grows extremely fond of Alexia. Each new addition fits perfectly into Carriger’s hilarious and imaginative world.

Both novels are fast-paced without feeling rushed. While I did have some minor problems with the structure of Soulless (I thought the climax of the novel started a little too soon), these are not present at all in Changeless or Blameless. The action in each builds steadily to exciting conclusions; people reading Changeless will be very glad that Blameless has already been released, as it ends with quite the startling twist.

As I mention above, these two novels have all the charm and humour of Carriger’s first, but with more emotional depth. Soulless provides an introduction to Alexia’s world, but her involvement in the central conflict is as much due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time as anything else. In Changeless and Blameless (whose plots fit together quite closely), Alexia’s abilities and her marriage are central to the conflict, which raises the stakes for her considerably. Alexia and Connall’s relationship is repeatedly tested throughout the novels, by their own foibles and misunderstandings and by circumstances that neither could have expected.

While I found what we saw of Alexia and Connall’s courtship a little unsatisfying in Soulless, I loved seeing their married life. It is a peculiar union of two combative, independent personalities. Marriage has not dulled Alexia’s sharp tongue, nor Lord Maccon’s temper, which leads to much hilarity but also many misunderstandings. In addition to frequent and highly satisfying verbal sparring, they have a very healthy sex life, and their mutual attraction persists throughout any disagreements they might have. There is an endearing naughtiness to the way Carriger writes about sex that should appeal to even the squeamish.

For those who read and loved Soulless, Changeless and Blameless will not disappoint. Those who haven’t yet given The Parasol Protectorate a try are in for a treat. These books are engaging and original, and so much fun. I can’t wait to get started on Heartless (which was released last month).

Highly recommended.

The Parasol Protectorate series: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless (review forthcoming), Timeless (2012)

1 comment:

  1. ThaNks for such a great pair of review. I'm just finishing Souless right now, so it's good to hear that the next two books are good if not better than the first. After getting stung with Collins' sequels to The Hunger Games, I'm a little gun shy about sequels...