Gail Carriger
Changeless Cover

Return of the parasol


Snowpocalypse. Again. This one I celebrated by drinking copious amounts of tea and reading Gail Carriger's Changeless, the sequel to her delightful absurdist steampunk fantasy mystery romance Soulless, which I read over the summer (in a delightful rustic lakeside cabin in Maine. God, I can't wait for summer again).

In Changeless, our soulless heroine, formerly Alexia Tarabotti, now Mrs. Alexia Maccon, Lady Woolsey, is just settling in to her multiple new roles as a married woman, the female Alpha of Woolsey pack, and Queen Victoria's muhjah, when chaos strikes, in the form of an entire regiment of werewolves camping out on her front lawn. Well, that happens, but it's not the real chaos, unfortunately. The real chaos is a peculiarly exactingly defined area of London in which all supernatural have ceased being supernatural, as if a preternatural (a soulless person, like Alexia) were continually touching everyone within a certain radius at once. Needless to say, the vampires and werewolves are rather panicked. The ghosts, unfortunately, have been exorcised, and as such have nothing to say about the matter.

As muhjah and a member of the Shadow Council, it falls under Alexia's jurisdiction to figure out what precisely is going on; as a Bureau of Unnatural Registry officer, it is also of interest to her husband, Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of Woolsey Pack. Several unfortunate instances compete for their attention, however—Conall is called away to his former pack of Scottish werewolves in Kingair due to the death of their Alpha; Alexia's best friend, Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, is engaged; one of Alexia's intolerable sisters is also engaged, causing the remaining intolerable sister to become so intolerable that Alexia's Mama sends her to visit; and Conall has left strict instructions that Alexia go hat shopping. The hat shopping causes her to make the acquaintance of a cross-dressing French inventor named Madame Lefoux, who proceeds to follow Alexia throughout the novel—or possibly she is following Alexia's maid, former vampire drone Angelique. It's difficult to tell.

Alexia, Ivy, Madame Lefoux, Angelique, the intolerable sister, and Conall's valet Tunstell (who seems to have an unfortunately requited fancy for the now-engaged Ivy) all elect to follow Conall to Scotland, after receiving intelligence that the mysterious humanization plague appears to be moving towards Kingair pack's territory. The intelligence is courtesy of Woolsey pack Beta Professor Lyall, an unusually urbane and intellectual werewolf, and Lord Akeldama, vampire gossipmonger extraordinaire, and some of his most effective pretty-boy drones. The flight to Scotland is made via dirigible, and features a poisoning, a shoving-over-the-railing, the theft of Alexia's journal, much melodrama between Ivy, Tunstell, and Alexia's sister, and Alexia being entirely oblivious to Madame Lefoux' constantly flirting with her. In short, it is all wacky hijinks, all the time.

Right up until the end, that is. After a lot of fun mystery-solving and Alexia utilizing her fabulous engadgeted steampunk parasol and everyone getting re-werewolfified and some stuff involving a mummy looted from Egypt during military service, we get hit with a surprisingly heavy cliffhanger of an ending. I am very irritated that the ebook for Blameless is on hold at the library; I want to read it NOW. (Also, I do not understand why an ebook must be put on hold.)

My biggest criticism of this book is probably the rather glossed-over way the British Empire's continuous military campaigns are treated; while the series does a pretty good job of pointing out several social foibles of homeland Victorian England—the constricting nature of women's fashion being one of the major targets—the Empire's relentless expansionism and the werewolves' military service are presented in a kind of "ah yes that thing that's going on" kind of way—it's a bit incidental to the story as everything takes place in England and Scotland, but nobody ever seems to make any kind of even cursorily critical comment about what business the Empire has taking over other countries anyway; it seems to be pretty universally accepted and unquestioned.

My less serious criticism is that just reading about Alexia and Conall's marriage makes me exhausted; it's all constant bickering and verbal sparring and incessant amorous activities. (Not to mention that I find literally everything about Conall except the accent to be the absolute antithesis of attractiveness.) But it works for them, which I suppose is the important thing. Their bickering is also quite colorful and witty, which I suppose is the important thing for the reader.

This book is to be read with tea and, if you wish for maximum effect, read it out loud in your very best British accent (except for the bits where you need a French or Scottish accent). It's great fun, and the dialogue really shines that way—Carriger has really mastered the art of comedy-of-manners dry, snarky humor.

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