REVIEW: Changeless by Gail Carriger
Note: This review will contains spoilers for the first book in the series, Soulless. If you prefer to be unspoiled I suggest skipping this review.
Dear Ms. Carriger:
Changeless starts of slow and ends with a big cliffhanger. Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of cliffhanger endings but this one was not only surprising but so well placed that I can’t help but feel intrigued. This book involved more gadgetry and dirigibles which appear to be a trademark of steampunk books, but given that so much of the story depends upon the myths of the supernatural and preternatural, I can’t classify this as a steampunk novel. Regardless of the classification, it was a fun book with a good emotional hook that left me wanting more. Can’t ask for much more than that from a book.
For romance readers, Lord Macon and Alexia spend little time together until the latter part of the tale and I don’t think it is much of a coincidence that I found those parts of the story the most intriguing.
In Soulless, Alexia Maccon née Tarabotti met, sparred and fell in love with Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey. Conall is Alpha of Woolsey Castle, on the largest the Alexia is a preternatural who has no soul. Her lack of soul makes her a danger to those others: vampires, werwolves, ghosts. If she touches them, she strips away their magic and renders them human. Touching Maccon, for instance, ages him slightly with each encounter for he is human during the time in which he is in physical contact with Alexia.
Conall is summoned to the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) one morning when alarming news regarding the unnatural population is reported. Alexia as muhjah to Queen Victoria, a secret preternatural weapon (although it is not much secret that Alexia is preternatural to anyone in the story which makes her secret status seem illusory), learns of the same news in a meeting with Queen Victoria’s Secret Counsel. The mystery is what is this danger and how will Alexia solve the problem?
The first two thirds of the story was really setup. It introduced us to new characters, some who seemed to have no purpose than to provide in-the-moment comic relief. It was actually a bit of a letdown to have so much early attention paid to certain characters only to have them disappear for the rest of the book. The first two thirds also spent an inordinate amount of time on gadgetry specifically a particular parasol made for Alexia and a new communications machine. These two items had little to do with the plot and seemed inserted solely for the purpose of claiming steampunk street cred.
I was also baffled by the heavy handed nature of asserting the homosexuality of one character and Alexia’s sexual response to this character. I’m not certain if I was to presume that this was foreshadowing for some future experimentation between Alexia and this new character or whether it was simply an overly obvious reference to a small detail in the suspense plot.
One thing that is not addressed and seems to bother neither Conall nor Alexia is her relatively limited lifespan. This is particularly perplexing given the emotional arc that takes place in the latter third of the book involving Conall and his last living descendant.
I don’t think it is sufficient to proffer the excuse that Alexia is soulless and therefore does not care if she dies before Conall because if she can “love” Conall, then she has an emotional side.
In writing this review, I know I’ve pointed out more that I didn’t like and it may seem that I didn’t enjoy the story. I did. As I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, I am not one for long separations or for cliffhangers and while the cliffhanger seemed contrived, it still was written with emotional power that carried me over the plot holes. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the story and after some contemplation that I noticed all the inconsistencies, plot holes, and random characters.
I particularly like Alexia because she is snobby, opinionated, and outspoken. She’s full of verve and as a character, vividly drawn. I can close my eyes and see her, bustle, long nose, swarthy skin, and parasol. B-