Good morning, and happy Sci Fi Sunday! Today, we bring to you the second review of Gail Carriger's steampunk novels, this one of Changeless, again reviewed by my daughter Sarah. Enjoy!
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Orbit Books
American release date: March 30th 2010
Format/Genre/Length: Novel/Fantasy/374 pages
Publisher/Industry Age Rating: Older Teen
Overall Personal Rating: A
Similar series/titles to check out: Leviathan; Discworld; the Sookie Stackhouse novels (Southern Vampire mysteries)
When the supernatural aren't feeling so supernatural anymore, Alexia Tarabotti will have to venture into the darkest depths of a most backwater land to find the truth, braving strange foods and insidious in-laws at the same time - and that place is Scotland.
Alexia Maccon, half-Italian muhjah and wife of a werewolf as well as a woman with no soul who loves food and her parasol, once again finds herself in a bind when she is awoken in the early mid-afternoon by her husband, who instead of sleeping peacefully like a werewolf should be is instead shouting angrily into the air. He then storms out of the house with no real explanation as to what's going on. What she finds instead of answers is an entire regiment of werewolves camped out on the lawn of her house on order of Lord Maccon himself - and as her dinner party is coming up as well. Now BUR and Queen Victoria are on her tail when large swaths of London's supernatural suddenly go pre-natural with no explanation - therefore putting all the suspicion and blame on Alexia's soulless shoulders. Luckily for her, she meets Madame Lefoux, female French inventor with a keen mind and an even keener mind for making a very exciting and combative parasol for Alexia's use. However, not even that will fully solve the case of the pre-naturals gone human, and unfortunately it leads to a place Alexia does not necessarily want to go to: Scotland, home of her beloved husband and where the heart of her investigation lies.
Naturally, Alexia can't do anything without some social complications, especially when her mother dumps one of her sisters on her right as she's about to leave for Scotland, Tunstell and Ivy decide to tag along despite Ivy being engaged and Tunstell smitten with Ivy, and Madame Lefoux joins the expedition in the name of scientific curiosity. The dirigible trip itself brings all sorts of excitement and dangers for the group, but is nothing compared to what lies in store on the rainy plains of Scotland. In a world run by werewolf dynamics and a very Scottish version of social mores, it's going to take all of Alexia's skill and wit to get to the heart of the mystery and still find time to stay sufficiently mad at her runaway husband.
The first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless, had held much promise for me as a reader but only scored a C rating for a multitude of flaws, partly a growing pains sensation of having to introduce such a wide universe of supernatural steampunk Victorian London in so many pages. I had indicated in my previous review that its sequel, Changeless, was one I would be looking forward to in anticipation of seeing Gail Carriger earn her popularity and acclaim by fans and reviewers alike. Now that I've read the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, I can now say one thing: it was totally worth getting through Soulless to read this book. In fact, by the time Alexia was beating the everloving bejeezus out of a petulant werewolf soldier, I was pretty much in love with this book and thinking myself a proud tea-drinking member of Team Alexia (and Team Akeldama for the win!). I think if you join now, you get a spiffy badge and a free parasol (weapon accessories not included; contact Madame Lefoux for an appointment ASAP before everyone else gets wind of it). If the second book is a marker of the places this series can go, then I look forward with fangirlish eagerness to the further adventures of the Parasol Protectorate.
In this book, Alexia and her core gang of merry supernaturals (and the occasional mere mortal) are truly at top form, embroiled in more drama than ever before, from Ivy's romantic entanglements to Alexia's husband problems. People who are fans of his wolfness Lord Maccon may be disappointed: he appears briefly in the first chapter, runs out to take care of business, and is not really seen until the dirigible lands in Scotland. That's quite alright - it gives Alexia more of a chance to shine solo, show why she is the perfect protagonist for this series. She's headstrong and dead set on getting things done her own way - that is, by wielding a parasol like a champ and answering the evils of London with her signature sharp wit - and if you don't love Alexia by the end of this book, you'd do best to stop reading the series 'cos Alexia is the life blood of the books and especially Changeless. She might just yet rocket to the top of my most favorite fictional heroine list if the third book manages to top this one.
There were several things tackled in Changeless that were truly memorable, one of them being the steampunk elements of the book. In my previous review, I had complained about a lack of essential steampunk and felt what little there were seemed more like window dressing than actual elements. However, my fears of this being a steampunk book without merit of holding that genre tag have been completely blown away. In this book, there's cogs and gears and magnificent steam-powered science. The dirigibles and the aethographer, which are so SP in essence, are essential plot points and don't seem tacked on in the slightest. Add to that Alexia's wonderful new parasol, and the series has finally come into its own as a steampunk work - although I kinda like referring to it as teapunk, for obvious reasons. Another issue tackled by the series is, surprisingly enough, a topic not exactly laid out in the open in Victorian times: sexuality. It isn't overtly addressed until the end of the book, but astute readers will certainly have their suspicions over the leanings of a certain character - and this time, it isn't the flaboyantly fabulous Lord Akeldama. And personally, I love Carriger for including more LGBTQQI characters in her work, especially since the Victorians weren't exactly known to be nice to those parts of society and I'm sure Miss Carriger will treat the issue of such characters in Victorian society with the respect they will deserve. The fact that the LGBTQQI characters do not suffer from flat personalities and are treated as worthy additions to the character roster feels my bisexual cisgendered heart with glee and squee.
The very end of Changeless is possibly the most incendiary and thrilling part of the book, and when you read it, you will be hopping mad at certain characters and be frantically searching for your own copy of Blameless - and no, it's not out yet, but it will be out in September of this year. Books that invoke that sort of reactions in readers? Always a top pick in my mind. If Soulless was the necessary stepping stone to set up the main story and cast of characters, then Changeless is the book that makes the series into a spectacular must-read for all fans of books looking for something out of the ordinary. After all, there are steampunk books, and there are supernatural books, and there are Victorian comedy of errors . . . and then there is Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, which if it's not on your bookshelf right now, it should be.
Overall Grade: A
A wonderfully paced story full of mischief, mystery, and manners that is finally and utterly deserving of the genre tag steampunk.
In the Radius: If you enjoy your supernatural tropes turned on their head with a good dose of humor, you should check out the Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, currently being adapted to television as the ongoing series True Blood on Showtime.
Until next time, take care!