Changeless, by Gail Carriger

Title: ChangelessChangeless Gail Carriger (Parasol Protectorate, Book #2)
Author: Gail Carriger
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 374 pages
Genre: steampunk paranormal romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: a very strong 4 stars
Spoiler Warnings: The first part of this entry will be spoiler-free; however, there will be a spoiler-full portion at the end, so I can talk about the important bits that go into Blameless.

Well, Carriger did not disappoint me. Changeless is a delightful book, and while it’s not perfect, it definitely improves on Soulless. The twee elements are definitely toned down here — the narrative voice didn’t aggravate me nearly as much as in the first book. Carriger’s stopped trying to convince the reader that she can emulate Victorian styles and is letting far more of her natural wit show through, and the book is much better for it.

The plot in this book is more a true mystery. A plague of humanization has incapacitated supernaturals, first in London, then moving up the Isle and all the way into Scotland. Alexia, charged by the Queen to investigate just this sort of thing, treks northward, with a most unusual party in tow: her beyond-bratty half-sister Felicity, her feather-headed friend Ivy, an excitable actor-turned-claviger called Tunstell, and a crafty, cross-dressing French inventor, Madame Lefoux.

Can I just say? I adore Genevieve Lefoux. She’s just the sort of alternate strong female character I was hoping for throughout Soulless. She’s warmer, more affectionate, and more charming than Alexia, which makes them excellent foils for each other. I also love Carriger’s willingness to let her characters have alternate sexualities — between Akeldama and his drones and then Lefoux’s proclivities, it’s quite refreshing. Yes, Madame Lefoux doesn’t just eschew feminine frippery in favour of well-tailored male clothing, she’s also a lesbian. I find myself hoping that Genevieve will eventually get to have her way with Alexia, who does seem to get a frisson of excitement out of their interactions. Probably not likely, but still something I can hope for, and if not in canon… well, there’s always fanfic. 😉

I love that we got to see more of werewolf dynamics in this book, and that some of the pack rules are explained in more detail. And I also do get that Alpha female I was hoping for — Sidheag is quite a treat. Irascible and prickly, yet somehow likeable at the same time. I hope we’ll see more of her in the future — I feel like there’s a decent setup there, with Conall having re-established contact with his old pack, and with her, after all, being his multi-great grand-daughter. There’s potential in her.

The plot rolls along at a good place, with some exciting twists and turns. If some of them stretch credulity a bit… well, it is paranormal fiction, so that’s probably to be expected. Carriger really has drawn the details of her world quite well, from the basic rules that her alternate universe operates under to the visuals of places, people, and things. I suspect the overly-elaborate discussions of clothing might be trying to the patience of some readers, but I, with my affection for Victoriana garb and my aspirations as a costumer, quite enjoy them.

I think my major criticism of this book is Ivy. She was frivolous but not a complete idiot in Book One, but she’s hazardously dim in Book Two. It’s a little unbelievable first that someone could be that dense, but even more than Alexia would remain friends with such a person. It went past my ability to suspend disbelief, and it really pressed my patience. She went from character to caricature, and it wasn’t becoming.

My other complaint is that I wanted more sizzle out of the sex scenes in this book. They were a little repetitive — Alexia wants to talk, Conall gets handsy, Alexia pushes him away long enough to talk, Conall eventually prevails, curtains fall over the scene. I sort of feel like Carriger didn’t quite use the irresistible passion they supposedly have for each other quite well enough. I’d love to be shown, not told of, more of the heat.

Those two complaints are pretty minor, though, and overall, Changeless excited me so much that I had to start Blameless immediately upon finishing, even though I’ve intended to be alternating between my various reading projects. Why the imperative? Well… That has to do with the emotional cliffhanger of an ending. Alexia finds herself in an awfully tight spot, and how she deals with it gets held off till the next book.

Warning: Spoilers Beyond This Point

First off, the solution to the mystery — Alexia was kind of an idiot to trust Angelique so blindly. I mean, seriously, how did she never suspect her of misdoings? For someone who’s supposed to be so practical and level-headed, she had an enormous blind spot there. I suppose that might be a commentary on Victorian class structure and the ignorance of the uppers as to the doings of their social lessers… but I somehow suspect not.

The big thing, though, that requires the spoiler warning? Alexia is in, to put this Victorian-ly, in a delicate condition. And oh.my.goodness I am so pleased with how Carriger is handling the pregnancy. Because I guessed very early on that Alexia had, somehow, gotten knocked up. And honestly, that disappointed me a little. It was so predictable, so stereotypical, such a pedestrian progression for a romance series to take. Married in book one, pregnant in book two, baby in book three. I was feeling a little let-down.

And then Conall reacted.

And this is why I was so anxious to get along to Blameless. There’s no baby yet, she’s still pregnant in the third (and, I believe, fourth) book, so Carriger’s not rollicking along to that particular point. And it isn’t happy-ever-after. It’s exactly the opposite. Conall, under the belief that werewolves can’t procreate (being, technically, dead), accuses Alexia of infidelity, and the novel ends with the two of them severely estranged. I must say, he’s kind of an idiot — I’d assumed from the beginning that, since he’s returned to humanity when she touches him, he’d likely be restored to potency as well.

So! There’s that deliciously harrowing emotional entanglement, and I’m on to Blameless, over a hundred pages in already, actually, and quite excited about it.

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