Title: Blameless (Parasol Protectorate Book #3)
Author: Gail Carriger
Year of Publication: 2010
Length: 355 pages
Genre: steampunk paranormal romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 4 stars
Spoiler Warning: Not only for Blameless but for Changeless. Do NOT read this review unless you’ve read Changeless.
Seriously. Unless you want to be spoiled for Changeless, stop reading.
Okay. (Yes, taking up space so people can scroll away).
Blameless opens just about exactly where Changeless left off, give or take a couple of weeks. With Conall in a foaming rage about her supposed infidelity, as evidenced by her supposedly impossible pregnancy, Alexia flees his house to return to the less-than-warm bosom of her family. When word gets out about her indelicate state, however, Alexia faces censure from the Queen and shame from Society. In a very short amount of time, she’s gone from overlooked to quite prominent to entirely ostracized. Fortunately, Alexia doesn’t give so much of a fig for Society; she mostly seems to find its disapproval an inconvenience (which is, incidentally, how she refers to the fetus growing inside her).
So, Alexia takes to the Continent, partly to avoid murderous vampires, partly to escape her alarmingly empty-headed family. No bets on which would prove ultimately more fatal. As in Changeless, she has a traveling party with her, but this time it’s a far more high-functioning crowd: her father’s erstwhile dogsbody Floote, clever inventor Madame Lefoux, and former Woolsey pack claviger Tunstell. They end up in Italy, land of the super-religious Templars, hoping that their religious tomes will hold some clue to the nature of preternaturals and an explanation for this unexpected pregnancy.
And they do. We learn a lot about preternaturals, both in Italy and along the way. We learn some various theories about how they interact with supernaturals, about their place in the cosmos, and we see that the Templars treat Alexia rather like an infectious plague, in fact considering her a demon (or, rather, daemon, but I have trouble spelling it that way thanks to His Dark Materials where that’s something completely different). The metaphysics here are really quite fascinating, if you like that sort of thing (which I do), and some of the Continental scientists are pretty excellent satires of Victorian-era medicine. The hysteria, the casual sexism, the bizarre theories and even more bizarre solutions — it’s a nice bit of parody. And kudos to Carriger for taking her story out of England. So much steampunk stays firmly rooted in the U.K., so it was nice to sojourn elsewhere. I wish, though, that the rest of the world felt as fleshed-out as her Britannia does. Bits of it felt rather slapdash. The Templars, particularly, feel more like an amalgamation of stereotypes than a well-thought-out alternate universe incarnation — which is strange, considering how detailed Carriger’s historical and sociological divergences usually are. The Templars come off feeling a bit villain-of-the-week, without enough nuance or veracity to make them feel like a true, tangible threat. The whole Italy plot is also awfully, well, predictable. Considering what we do know about the fanatical Templars, it comes as exactly no surprise when they stop playing nice and imprison Alexia. Likewise, I don’t know if Carriger meant for Channing’s identity to be a mystery or not, but it was pretty much clear as day — he disappears from England on some vitally important mission, and meanwhile in France and Italy, this pure white werewolf is constantly saving Alexia just in the nick of time? Not much of a shock. I could’ve done with a nice red herring there.
The best parts of this book, though, are actually back in England. I always liked Professor Lyall before, but we never saw enough of him for him to really take as a fave for me. In this book, though, he’s just magnificent. With Lord Maccon drinking himself into oblivion, Lyall has to step up to hold the Woolsey pack together with both, er, paws. I do love a good Beta. His dry wit and no-nonsense behaviour shows remarkably well in Blameless. Lyall not only has to defend against challengers and attempt to knock sense into Conall, but he also ends up investigating the disappearance of Lord Akeldama. It’s that last twist which actually leads to a fantastic subplot: the accidental transformation of Biffy, formerly a vampire drone, into a werewolf. He doesn’t get a lot of time to react to this in this book — and neither does Lord Akeldama, nor do his new packmates — but I imagine it will be a prominent subplot in Heartless, and I’m looking forward to it. Carriger’s put in a creative twist that I definitely wasn’t expecting.
Like other readers, I felt like the reconciliation between Alexia and Conall was a bit too pat. For as feisty as Alexia is, I rather expected more from her than a few half-hearted protests, a few more sniffles, and then open arms. Love can make up for a lot, but considering just how awful he was to her, I was rather hoping to see a more psychologically satisfying resolution to the conflict. As it was, it sort of felt like Carriger just needed the plot to be able to move on, so she squeezed the reconciliation in where she could crowbar it. I know that Carriger aims for light-hearted fare, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all — but there’s also nothing wrong with taking a moment to let the emotions breathe. It would be a nice contrast to the predominant frivolity.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, as I’ve enjoyed the others in the series. It’s a quick and entertaining read. I’ve already pre-ordered Heartless, which comes out at the end of the month.