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REVIEW: Changeless by Gail Carriger

Changeless by Gail CarrigerNote: 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-

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

20 Comments

  1. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 14:45:06

    I loved Soulless,Changeless much less so. But my reservations will not stop me from buying the next book, so Ms. Carriger need not worry.:) Alexia is pretty irrisitible even when saddled with too much plot/too many characters as she was in Changeless, not to mention the gross great-great granddaughter scene, which had me reaching for my vinaigrette.

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  2. katiebabs
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 14:53:16

    The ending was beyond jaw dropping. I would have never expected it.

    My favorite parts are when Alexia is so uncomfortable around people, including her sister and her friend Ivy.

    Cannot wait for Blameless in September.

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  3. Kalen Hughes
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 15:43:37

    I’m saving it as my reward for finishing my current book, and I’m dying. I loved Soulless, and I’m fully prepared for the “transition” book in the trilogy to be a bit rough (they so often are).

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  4. Carolyn Jewel
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 16:09:15

    I just finished Changeless and loved it. The cliffhanger just about killed me. Oh!

    As to the homosexual character mentioned, I will be baffled if this isn’t brought up in Blameless. I had no issues with it at all because I assumed it was there for a reason.

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  5. senetra
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 16:11:59

    I liked Changeless more than Soulless, and was surprised by the ending. Ivy bugs the crap out of me, and I kept hoping that Alexia would hit her with the parasol.

    Like Jane, I noted the lack of Alexia’s short lifespan. I even wondered if Conall would remarry someday.

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  6. Emily
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 17:50:54

    Thanks for the warning. I hate, really, *really* hate cliff-hanger endings. I don’t read authors who have them.

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  7. SonomaLass
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 18:42:31

    I enjoyed Changeless. Yes, the ending was rough, but I’m hoping Blameless will be worth the wait. I just love Alexia!

    I wasn’t bothered much by the lifespan thing. It doesn’t seem like werewolves in this world have much of a choice about that — if there are almost no female weres, then it’s short-lived romances or none at all. Alexia’s pragmatism seemed totally in character to me.

    I also enjoy having variety in the sexual orientation of the characters, whether or not that serves a plot purpose. A more diverse canvas of characters pleases me.

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  8. Sandy D.
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 19:40:01

    Thank you! I have to say you articulated many of the issues I had with the book. I waffled on the 3 vs. 4 star rating on goodreads several times (did I like it or *really* like it?), actually changing the number of stars back and forth.

    And like the others, I had to applaud the ending, which has ensured that I buy the next book as soon as it is out. Well done, Ms. Carriger.

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  9. Jane
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 20:02:41

    @sandy d – I can see what you mean. It is not like this is an average book. It is a good one with flaws. I’ve often struggled with the 3/4 star thing at Goodreads.

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  10. Roxie
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 23:00:47

    The shortened life span didn’t bother me too much. I seem to remember that in Soulless it’s mentioned that most werewolves don’t live that long – and that Conall was already a very old werewolf.

    I too enjoyed Changeless, but I have to confess, I was ready to beat Conall senseless at the ending. I was NOT happy with him. Here’s hoping Alexia makes him crawl in Blameless.

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  11. Rae
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 11:15:30

    I’m curious about the lifespan thing as well, but I think (and I can’t remember where in the book I got this impression), that the soulless aren’t necessarily limited to the normal human lifespan. Except that they all get killed. Or maybe I’m completely wrong. I will have to reread to figure out what gave me that impression.

    And Blameless must touch on the sexual orientation thing, considering how large of a focus it was given. It was alluded to far too many times to be a plot device for this book only, especially considering Alexia’s responses.

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  12. Jane
    Apr 14, 2010 @ 20:16:37

    @Rae Here is the part that made me think about the lifespan question:

    Lady Maccon cocked her head to one side. “Well, you must understand, my husband has considerable experience in these matters. He is hundreds of years older than I.”

    “And that does not trouble you?”

    “My dear, he will live hundreds of years longer than I as well. One must come to terms with these things if one fraternizes with the supernatural set. I admit it is hard, knowing we will not grow old together. But if you choose Tunstell, you may eventually have to face the same concerns. Then again, your time together could be cut short, as he may not survive metamorphosis.”

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  13. Thursday Midday Links: Orbit to Publish Digital Shorts | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 10:42:15

    [...] the publisher of books like Soulless and Changelessby Gail Carriger along with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin, has just announced that [...]

  14. Christina M.
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 16:03:05

    Loved the book! Yes, even the ending. Great cliffhanger for the next installment.

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  15. FD
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 11:57:00

    I liked this instalment although I share the aggravation at the ending. I don’t see Alexia meekly accepting that somehow, but I guess the premise was needed for the next book.

    I thought the writing was better in Changeless than Soulless – there were fewer clunky info dumps and the use of period language was much more accurate.
    I can also agree with those who had issues with the pacing and emphasis on certain elements that had not logical conclusion. It felt very much as though it was suffering from middle book syndrome tbh. (The version where the author is setting up for the finale, not the version where the middle book is filler.)
    I will definitely still be buying Blameless though.

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  16. amberwitch
    Apr 20, 2010 @ 14:10:59

    @FD: I agree – I found Soulless to be only so-so. I thought the series had potential, but the execution lacked in the first book. Changeless was much better written, and funnier.

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  17. Vankay
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 00:24:35

    I liked Changeless much more than soulless. Better written, more cohesive and i did not feel this time that the love scenes got in the way. Im practical.

    But i liked all the more expansive treat on the gadgets this time, it helps define the genre of the book not only as romantic supernatural/victorian romane novel. It, uhm, steampunk-it up.

    I love Ivy, she is so… special. He and Tunstell are a great comic relief. And about the aforemented homosexuality, I don’t think that extrictily sugests a plot for Alexia, after all, she is not proclive at the gustos of the french.

    But, the cliffhanger killed me… urgh.

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  19. Mach
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 21:29:29

    I’m still finishing Changeless (I don’t mind spoilers) but what puzzles me is that Alexia keeps being called “Lady Maccon”. Why that and not Lady Woolsey?

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  20. Mach
    Jun 03, 2010 @ 22:41:17

    One more thing I’m puzzled about, what were they doing drinking brandy in Scotland? Isn’t whiskey good enough for werewolves?

    ReplyReply

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