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REVIEW: Blameless by Gail Carriger

Warning: this review contains spoilers from the last book, which are central to the plot of this one.

Dear Ms. Carriger:

The cliffhanger to your second Parasol Protectorate book, Changeless, definitely worked its storytelling magic on me, and by the time Blameless was released, I was still dying to find out what happened. It is, I think, a particular strength of this Gaslight Fantasy series that despite it not being Romance, its rhythm is set to the evolution of Alexia and Conall's relationship, courting readers across genres. The first book revolved around their courtship, the second around their marriage, and this one around Conall's potentially unforgiveable response to the seemingly impossible child Alexia carries. Consequently, the tension around this relationship carries much of the emotional weight of the books, and when it's taught and dynamic, the story sings. When it sags, as it did for me in Blameless, it drags everything else down with it.

Blameless by Gail CarrigerBlameless begins soon after the events of Changeless, specifically Conall's rejection of Alexia and their child in the most boorish, emotionally devastating terms. Alexia, having moved home and struggling to adapt to her appetite-killing "infant-inconvenience," is angry and emotionally spent. After another blow – being fired as muhjah, aka one of Queen Victoria's super-secret supernatural advisors – Alexia simply "wanted to retire to her room and crawl back under the bed covers in a tiny – well, not that tiny – ball." This reaction is so unlike the normally practical, "take the bull by the horns' Alexia that it is clear that her soulless condition has not left her heartless. But her normal rationality has also not yielded a solution to her current problems, which grow even more serious when she escapes to Lord Akeldama's home only to discover that the rove vampire has himself mysteriously fled town with his drones in tow. And then there are the killer ladybugs . . .

Conall, in the meantime, knows nothing of Alexia's increasingly perilous circumstances, as he is spending days upon days drunk on the formaldehyde Professor Lyall uses to preserve various specimens in his lab (aka "crunchy pickled snack[s]" to Lord Maccon). Incoherent and out of commission, Conall has inadvertently left most of the pack management duties to Lyall, who is summoned, along with former Maccon pack claviger (and current newlywed husband to Ivy Hisselpenny) Tunstell, and veteran Tarabotti butler Floote, to Madame LeFoux's eccentric hat shop/laboratory. Alexia, it seems, is the subject of a vampire extermination mandate, and with Lord Akeldama gone and Conall drunk and belligerent, Alexia's safety (and that of the infant-inconvenience) is urgent and challenging.

Questions regarding her seemingly inconceivable conception are almost equally pressing to Alexia, as she hopes she can convince Conall – "that untrusting nitwit!" – that the baby really is his. For both of these priorities, Italy and the Templars, with their strange experimentation and research on soullessness, seem the best option, except to Floote, whose experience serving Alexia's father has left him with certain stores of knowledge he is unwilling to share. So off Alexia, Floote, and Madame LeFoux (disguised as a man, naturellement), head to Italy, leaving the shop in the questionable hands (and taste!) of Alexia's best friend, Ivy.

Conceptually, Blameless is the perfect follow-up to Changeless, with Alexia and Conall's estrangement allowing Alexia to look into her own family and species history, opening up space for other characters to emerge and develop further (Lyall, Madame LeFoux, Tunstell, Floote, Ivy, and, in a surprising turn, Lord Akeldama's favorite, Biffy), and setting the stage for a kooky, hurried road trip across England, France, and Italy. More gadgetry is introduced here, too, building out the steampunk elements of the series, and the dry, droll humor characterizing the first two books is very much in evidence in Blameless, as well. So with all this, why was I disappointed?

Possibly because there was all that cramped into a book that seemed much shorter than its 350+ pages (it clocked in for me at fewer than 300 as a digital book). There are gadgets and chases and epiphanies (at some point Conall has to sober up and pull his head out, after all, so he can go after his wayward, and clearly faithful, wife) and scientific theories on soullessness and preternatural-werewolf babies, and Alexia's need for tea and appreciation of French croissants, and many more small and large curiosities and obstacles and dangers to keep the story moving. What there was not enough of, for me, was the kind of emotional depth I was hoping for after reading Changeless.

Let me clarify, first, that I am not referring to romantic depth. Although I did feel that Conall's drunkenness and the separation between him and Alexia was a too-convenient (and too conveniently resolved) plot device, I have not been enjoying this story purely for the fun of Alexia and Conall's growing attachment (and the consternation both experience at the appearance of their finer feelings toward one another). But a series like this – one that has a somewhat Wilde-ish quality of life imitating art and appearance for its own sake – has in it the danger to become a mere gimmick, and at the end of Changeless I was feeling very much like the gimmick might outweigh the kind of emotional resonance necessary to carry an extended progression of adventures for these central characters.

And there is more depth in Blameless, especially in terms of Alexia's character growth relative to her pregnancy. I hesitate to suggest that the baby softens her, although at times it seemed like that's exactly what was happening, but I will say that having so many vampires and scientists taking a rather unnerving (and potentially lethal) interest in her makes her more circumspect about her current condition. Of course this occurs in a decidedly Alexian way:

Another thing had also become apparent. As driven as she might be to prove Conall wrong, the fate of the infant-inconvenience was now at stake. Alexia might be frustrated with the tiny parasite, but she decided, after contemplation, that she did not, exactly, wish it dead. They'd been through a lot together so far. Just you allow me to eat regularly, she told it silently, and I'll think about trying to grow a mothering instinct. Won't be easy, mind you. I wasn't ever expecting to have one. But I'll try.

Even Ivy begins to show depth beyond her "dark curls and big eyes and ridiculous hats." As she wisely points out to Professor Lyall:

"The great advantage," she said, "of being thought silly, is that people forget and begin to think one might also be foolish. I may, Professor Lyall, be a trifle enthusiastic in my manner and dress, but I am no fool."

Alexia, as we know, does not suffer fools much at all, which may explain in part her growing friendship with Madame LeFoux. While the Sapphic potential of that relationship was flirted with in the previous book, here it is made clear that Alexia is not comfortable with anything past platonic companionship. Still, the relationship has its own poignancy, especially when her friend puts a comforting arm around her shoulders, reminding her how little physical comfort she grew up with and how long it had been "since anyone touched her with genuine fondness." This more emotional aspect of relationships, even among supernaturals and preternaturals, is reflected in a very interesting sequence of events involving Lord Maccon, Lyall, Tunstell, and Biffy later on in the novel. It is a somewhat significant spoiler, so I will not expand on the details here, but it was, for me, one of the most authentically connected sections of the book.

As the series progresses, I will need more of these connections among and between characters to feel engaged. Witty ridiculousness can be very seductive and entertaining, but when a series amasses a thousand pages or more of narrative, those superficial pleasures need some sort of grounding to sustain themselves, and the series has already provided for this in its construction around the stages of Alexia and Conall's relationship.

Not that there isn't plenty to enjoy and divert here: the Templars are fascinating in that they help us understand what a soulless state signifies to someone deeply religious (think Monty Python meets the Knights Templar); there are some spectacularly well-fitted and innovative ladybug assassins; a particularly idiosyncratic and annoying dog accompanying a particularly idiosyncratic and chilling member of the Order of the Brass Octopus (from whence Madame LeFoux comes, as well); and various mild amusements arising from Lord Maccon's boorish and necessarily painful awareness of the need to publicly grovel to Alexia if he has any hope of winning her back. As I said earlier, the convenient timing, both of his stupor and his sobering, felt somewhat heavy-handed (especially since his only indication character growth is embodied in his inevitable acceptance of Alexia's faithfulness). But I still managed to complete the book in two sittings, which speaks to its affable readability.

Still, I am hoping that the next installment, Heartless, will offer a bit more substance to further ground the superficial amusements of the series thus far. Alexia may be robust in her soulless state, but for me, as a reader, a long-term series won't be. C+

~ Janet

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isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

26 Comments

  1. MarieC
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 12:32:44

    Hi Janet. I agree with your review overall, but I think I liked it a bit more than you, maybe in the ‘B-‘ range. There is plenty to enjoy, but the story lagged in places, perhaps to set up ‘Heartless’.

    I don’t know about you, but Conall’s pity party kind of got old for me. Thank goodness for Prof. Lyall.

  2. Penelope
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 12:49:03

    Great review. I had many of the same issues with this book, and I was terribly disappointed because I adored Soulless and Changeless. I am praying that Conall and Alexia are back together in the next installment…their chemistry together lights up this series.

  3. Elyssa Papa
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 12:51:20

    I still haven’t read CHANGELESS (although I’ve known the cliffhanger ending before it released), and I have to say I have fallen out of like with the series. I don’t know what it is exactly–maybe it’s what you mentioned in your review, about the need for something more. I can’t help but compare this series to the one I’m reading now (Amelia Peabody) and seeing the differences. I’m invested in Amelia, Emerson, and especially in their son, Ramses. I want to know what happens to them, and I care about their lives. I can’t say the same for Alexia.

  4. izzybella
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:17:16

    I saw the similarity between Alexia and Amelia immediately, having read and reread my Amelia Peabody mysteries over and over and over.

    That’s what encouraged me to pick up the book actually-I adore strong female characters and the sense of play in the first book was just beautiful. The Oscar Wilde-ness of it is what has kept me coming back.

    It’s a complete lark in a completely made-up, albeit familiar, world. The kick I get out of the Amelia books is how Elizabeth Peters peppers in real archealogical and historical events from the time and uses Amelia’s flawed perspective to reflect it. Later books in the series become a bit too soap-operatic though-like they take themselves too seriously. The parasol protectorate is like a movie night with my best friend. Good freakin’ hilarious fun, made even better with the copious application of alcohol. It doesn’t change the world. It’s just silly fun.

  5. Angela James
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:22:50

    @Elyssa

    I had to think for a few moments because you were the second person I remember hearing compare this series to Amelia Peabody. It was a lady at the Smart Bitches/Sony meetup in NYC last week and she brought up Carriger’s books as ones she wanted to like, but ultimately didn’t because they reminded her, as well, of Amelia Peabody but not as favorably. It’s interesting that two separate people have made that comparison. It makes me want to go read the Peabody books.

    Janet, I agree with your review. I’ve discussed this with Jane twice now (because she forgot we had the first conversation) and I think you nailed it for me when you said this:

    But a series like this – one that has a somewhat Wilde-ish quality of life imitating art and appearance for its own sake – has in it the danger to become a mere gimmick, and at the end of Changeless I was feeling very much like the gimmick might outweigh the kind of emotional resonance necessary to carry an extended progression of adventures for these central characters.

    I think Ms. Carriger has created a fascinating world, and wonderful characters, and I fully intend to read future books, but this one didn’t deliver the same feeling of awesome for me that the first two did, and I think it’s a bit of what you said: you need something grounded in emotion to balance the silly. The silly works well for this book, but it’s a fine line between inundated with it. And I felt a little cheated at the ease with which the emotional hurt between Connall and Alexis was resolved. It was…too easy. And because of that, the silliness that went along with the resolution was almost too much.

    But all that said, I continue to recommend these books to people, and I do look forward to the next one. Also, in comparison to the other two books in the series, I’d definitely grade it a C. But in comparison to other books in general, I think it’s more like a B.

  6. Edith
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 13:35:35

    I haven’t finished book 2 or 3 yet, but I did go her signing last night.

    Gleaned this info for fans (this might have been covered in her blog, but I don’t read it, so may be redundant):

    There will be two more books with these main characters in this world.

    She does plan to write more books in this world, maybe slightly in its past or future. She’s striving to be more of a Mercedes Lackey, rather than a Jim Butcher or LKH.

    She has a proposal out for a YA series.

  7. TKF
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:00:54

    Got home from Burning Man and bought this immediately. Can’t wait to start it on the train home tonight! My only worry is that I'll miss my stop, LOL!

  8. lil
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:06:39

    I was a bit underwhelmed by Blameless, despite being so excited to read it that I bought it the day it came out and spent the afternoon reading it.
    Also, I didn’t realize it was a series, I thought it was the final book of a trilogy so that may be why the pacing felt off to me. It was disappointing that Conall and Alexia spent the majority of the book apart as their interactions are one of the best parts of this series. Because when the two are together, (whether fighting, bantering, or loving), the series sparks.
    I found myself frustrated with Alexia in this book, particularly in her interactions with the Templars. I wanted her to be a little more proactive, instead of taking everyone at face value.
    I agree with the C+ grade but I am looking forward to Heartless.

  9. Janet/Robin
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:36:08

    @ MarieC: Oh, yes, the whole construction of his wallowing and repentance just felt baldly manipulated to me. Alexia may be the more interesting or layered character of the two, but I’d like to see a bit more from Conall in future books.

    @Penelope: Given the state of things at the end of Blameless, I assume they will be in much closer proximity during the next book. After all, Conall still has MAJOR grovelling to do!

    @Elyssa Papa: I see the similarities less now — or rather I don’t see them as determinative. Tone, especially is much different, although I will be interested in your thoughts on this as you read further into both series (and what AP book are you on now??????)

    @izzybella: I agree that the very late books in the AP series are not as strong, but for me, at least, the books set around and during WWI were outstanding, especially in the storylines around Ramses (and Nefret, of course).

    But as Jane and I were talking about recently, it’s very difficult to sustain romantic tension between characters through many books. IMO Peters did a very smart thing by shifting focus from Amelia and Emerson to Ramses and Nefret. It will be interesting to see how Carriger keeps the spark going with Alexia and Conall.

    @Angela James: It was Book Smugglers where I originally saw the comparison between the Carriger and Peters books, and while it was strong for me in the first Parasol Protectorate book, it has faded over the course of the three books.

    The Peters books wonderful but definitely move in a different direction. One of my favorite things about the Amelia Peabody books, besides all the archaeological and historical details, is the way Peters creates layers of voice to present multiple perspectives. In the later books, she does this by presenting different “manuscript fragments” of different characters, but in the earlier books, she manages to have a very powerful, authoritative and unreliable narrator (Amelia) around whom Peters manages to get other POVs to come through. It’s really quite remarkable and masterful, IMO.

    As for the Parasol Protectorate books, like you I look forward to Heartless, but I do hope that we get more relationship-based depth, even if it’s not all about Conall and Alexia.

    @Edith: Thanks for the info.

    @TKF: I downed the book in two sittings, so you may need to pay extra attention to where your stop is!

    @lil: I have very mixed feelings about the section where she stays with the Templars. OTOH, I agree that she seemed to be somewhat more passive than usual, I felt that her pregnancy is making her a bit more conscious of not rushing into danger more often than necessary.

    And was I the only one who fully expected the German scientist (although not necessarily his dog) to show up in Italy?

  10. JodyS
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 15:56:36

    @lil
    Underwhelmed is the perfect word; and I also went in expecting it to end a trilogy.

    Part of my disappointment was the lack of a satisfactory resolution. After the huge emotional upheaval that Alexia endured, the reconciliation between her and Conall seemed very cursory.

  11. Penelope
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 16:20:34

    I also commented on the similarities to the Amelia Peabody series in my review. My observation was that the chemistry between Emerson and Amelia is sort of the backbone of that series…it invigorates every story. The chemistry between Alexia and Conall has the same sort of energy…by keeping them apart in Blameless, the sparkle fizzled out of the book. Even though the Amelia Peabody books are mysteries, not romance, the relationship between Emerson and Amelia is critical to the series’ success. I think the same can be said for the Protectorate series…Carriger needs to get her 2 leads back on the same page to keep the spark alive in those books.

  12. Elyssa Papa
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 18:10:36

    Robin, I just finished The Last Camel Died at Noon last night (I know, I know I’m woefully behind) and especially loved when Ramses meets Nefret. So I’m now onto the next one: The Snake, Crocodile, and Dog (or whatever the title is). I’m afraid to ask what book you’re on, but because I have to know, which one?

    Angela, I highly recommend the AP series. Robin actually got me into them.

  13. MikiS
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 19:36:46

    I read a number of negative reviews about this book before I read it…and ended up liking it more than I expected to!

    Maybe if I’d read it without the warnings first it would have disappointed me. And I do agree that the bickering…uh, “chemistry”…between Conall and Alexia iw much of what makes this series so fun to read (and so missing in this book).

    It didn’t have the fun edge, but I look forward to the next two books in this series!

  14. Julie L.
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 20:19:44

    I agree with the overall consensus that because of the separation and lack of banter and simple proximity between Conall and Alexia, Blameless lost it’s fizz and wasn’t IMO as entertaining a read as the first two previous books in the series. But, I have high hopes in regard to her future endeavors! I hadn’t read any of the Elizabeth Peabody books when I first read Carriger’s books, but since Changeless came out I’ve read the first two and definitely see the similarities. As with Amelia and Emerson, the energy needed to keep the series afloat is dependent on Alexia and Conall’s relationship. To me, all the other side characters, steampunk inventions and silliness come in second to their interaction, hence why Blameless was not as satisfying a read to me. I’ll admit much of the mechanical descriptions were beyond me and not my “thing” yet I still enjoyed the book and it’s peek at what’s to come in the future.

  15. Sandia
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 20:31:15

    I just finished this book and moved on to “An Artificial Night”. I’ve been reading the Amelia Peabody books since the recommendation on DA (I had already bought numerous books in the series on the Kindle when they were $1.99 a piece). I was really happy to discover the voice of Amelia being very similar to Alexia (I read Soulless and Changeless first). I found that after reading the Amelia books then moving back to Alexia – they’re similar, but really not the same. There definitely was enough of a difference that I wasn’t bothered at all. Especially since the worlds the characters inhabit are SO different. But I really loved the increasing amounts of gadgetry I’m seeing in the Parasol Protectorate series. Does anyone else have a recommendation for more Steampunk type novels which won’t be too dark?

  16. peggy h
    Sep 10, 2010 @ 20:34:49

    Another reader here who was a tad let down by this book. I actually read it in one sitting (began Friday night, finished in the not-so-wee hours of Saturday morning…oh well, it was the long holiday weekend!)

    I obviously liked it enough to keep going in one sitting, but I was also anxious to finish it in hopes that it would end in a satisfying way. Like most of you, I felt the connection between the Alexia and Conall gives the books great spark, and I missed that here. Also disappointed in how quickly they reconciled…sigh.

    But still interested enough to be watching out for Book 4….

  17. Merrian
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 01:13:49

    I bought and read Blameless last night and have to agree very much with the review. It feels like a middle book when things are set up for the next story arc. I think Connall got off very lightly and I enjoyed more of Prof Lyall and Lord Akeldema’s depth showing. The steampunk-ishness was good but the plot lines were obvious and you could see what was going to happen next. I actually liked it that now Alexia was pregnant she was taking care. You do make different choices when you have to think of someone else. I rated it as a strong C+ too. And I am joining the shout out to Amelia Peabody. I own them all and they are great re-reads whichis my test of a good book.

  18. Donna Lea Simpson
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 07:23:13

    It was the strong similarities to the Amelia Peabody series that kept me from reading beyond Book 1 of Carriger’s series. It was just too, too strong of an external reference to me, too powerful an echo, and I couldn’t enjoy the book for what it was. Instead, I kept comparing it to Elizabeth Peters’ books, with a little Jane Austen thrown in.

    I was surprised when I didn’t see anything of that in reviews of Soulless, and am relieved that I’m not alone in feeling the similarity.

  19. pooks
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 08:13:02

    This is an exceptional review. You have clarified many of my own thoughts, by acknowledging that this is not a romance and yet the relationship between Maccon and Alexia has been an integral thread from the beginning, and is the thread that most intrigued and entranced a large portion of Ms Carriger’s readership. I awaited this book breathlessly, preordered so that it was on my Kindle when I woke up Sept 1, and haven’t finished reading it yet. I have found gadgetry and episodic action sequences aren’t enough to keep me interested. I shall finish, and I shall buy book four, and I shall hope it returns to the strengths of Soulless and Changeless.

    Again, excellent review.

  20. katiebabs
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 10:03:07

    I was upset by the major lack of groveling on Conall’s end. For the way he treated Alexia and called her a few choice names that weren’t listed in great detail Changeless, but assumed, I was expecting a grovel scene along the lines of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Heaven, Texas.

    I wanted Conall to roll around in he mud and get down on his knees and beg for forgiveness.

    With that in mind I still enjoy the character of Alexia and look forward to the 4th book.

  21. Sandra
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 10:04:48

    I read this last weekend (stopping @ B&N on my way out of town for the holiday). I enjoyed it, but like everyone else, missed the interaction between Alexia and Conall. It was, as said above, mostly an Alexia and friends road trip.

    Getting into SPOILER territory a little bit. Conall and Alexia didn’t even occupy the same space until the very end of the book. And even then, he wasn’t the one to come to her rescue. She’d already rescued herself, with the help of her own pack. I like strong, self-sufficient heroines, but the hero has to have something to do.

    I thought the most emotionally satisfying part (in an angsty sort of way) was the bit with Biffy and Lord Akeldama. Unexpected but almost inevitable.

  22. Kristian Mercer
    Sep 11, 2010 @ 17:41:58

    @Sandia: Do try M.K. Hobson’s The Native Star if you’re interested in another steampunk novel – there was a great post here at DA on 9/2 if you want more info. It’s set in post-Civil War America, so much different than Alexia’s world, but I found the story and the worldbuilding fascinating. Enjoy!

  23. Janet/Robin
    Sep 12, 2010 @ 12:39:42

    @Elyssa Papa: I’m on the second to last book in the series. Later one, the books vacillate between past and present adventures, which is an interesting way to go. I think Ramses is in his mid-30s in this book (Tomb of The Golden Bird), and the next book (the last book, thus far) is set during an earlier season. So in terms of the Emerson family’s chronology, this is the last book (although I hope for at least one more!).

    @Sandra: The section regarding Biffy, Professor Lyall, and Lord Akeldama was my favorite of the book, probably because it had the most emotional depth, IMO.

    For those of you who have noted the similarities to the Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody series, having read almost all of that series now, IMO the similarities are relatively superficial and start fading out in Changeless (except for the Egyptian thing, lol). By this book, I wasn’t really thinking about the Peabody books at all.

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