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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Changeless, The Parasol Protectorate: Book the Second (ARC) by Gail Carriger

Title: Changeless, The Parasol Protectorate: Book the Second
Author: Gail Carriger
Reviewed Format: ARC
Release Date: March 30, 2010
Pages: 400

Alexia Macoon, once again, has a few problems on her hands: supernaturals are losing their abilities all around London, ghost are being exorcised, and she can’t seem to keep her clothes on when her husband is around.  The latter is, inarguably, the result of her new status as Lady Maccon, wife to Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of the biggest wolf pack in England.  The others are matters that must inevitably be explored in Gail Carriger’s second Parasol Protectorate book, Changeless.

When Alexa finds herself in a dreary and damp old castle in Scotland, with her dim, but sweet best friend and one of her impossible sisters, it’s more than just a social call.  It’s a miracle her retinue managed to make the journey at all; what does one pack for a dirigible ride and will the food be up to Alexia’s rather generous, but hardly forgiving standards?  What she meets upon arrival with hatboxes, suitcases, and brightly colored ladies flouncing about the Scottish Highlands in their English best, are the in-laws and an ancient Egyptian mummy.  Neither are predisposed to the common courtesies, but Alexia is up to the challenge.

Following the precedent set in Soulless, Changeless is filled with ludicrous and lovable characters.  Everyone is, of course, a bit eccentric with odd quirks that separate them from the status quo.  Rather than be embarrassed by this, all are blessedly embracing of their peculiarities.  Alexia in particular has developed the habit of carrying a parasol wherever she goes--a fashion statement and staple to a proper lady’s ensemble when not being used to bash untoward and highly suspect individuals about the head.  Her trademark gets an upgrade from a French inventor, Q-style.  One does not have to be James Bond to get all the best toys.  Carriger doesn’t balk at introducing other new technologies.  In fact, Changeless is filled with curious gadgets and inventions sure to please skeptical Steampunk fans left wanting after reading Soulless.

Not only does Alexia travel aboard a dirigible, but she eagerly uses the instrument that’s replaced the problematic telegraph: an aethographic transmitter.  Leave it to her dear friend and Vampire, Lord Akeldama, to have the latest available version making it possible for the two to gossip via the aether.  This new development becomes integral to the plot, as does Alexia’s bizarre new inventor; Madame Lefoux is full of surprises.  She dresses, quite scandalously, like a gentleman, owns a hat shop to front her scientific endeavors, and has a mysterious and familiar octopus tattoo on the back of her neck.  Unlike Soulless which introduced a small army of octopuses and left us in ignorance, Changeless takes the reigns successfully.  The octopuses are finally explained.  Not to mention the playful dynamic Madame Lefoux sparks between Alexia and Lord Maccon makes for an interesting diversion.  I think she’s become my favorite character, after Lord Akeldama, of course.  If it’s to be believed, my favorite Vampire not only meets willingly with a Werewolf, but a naked one at that.

Changeless is in many ways so much better than Soulless.  I was a bit put off by the excess of sexual innuendos and encounters in the latter--the second half of the Paranormal Romance subgenre I did not realize it fell categorically under.  Perhaps it’s because I approached Changeless with previous experience, but the romance didn’t bother me nearly as much.  It could also be that Carriger significantly cut back.  Although there are a few scenes that I felt were unnecessary, Changeless would not be as charming, witty, or frivolous without them.  In short, I wasn’t bothered enough to let a few scenes scattered throughout the book get in the way of me absolutely adoring this novel.  To be fair: I don’t normally read romance books, let alone Paranormal ones. Had I known Soulless was a Paranormal Romance before I read it, I might not have bothered to buy a copy.  As it is, my misconception introduced me to an author and series I’m very glad to be a fan of.

The ridiculous denial and flirtation between Maccon and Alexia, now that they are married, is taken up by another burgeoning couple (dare I spoil things and say love triangle?).  Both manage to make the courtship appear silly and melodramatic, but always entertaining--far more entertaining than I ever found Alexia and Lord Maccon (no offense).  Not to be outdone, Alexia and her new husband are clearly in love and suffering blessedly, but the balance between the two couples is carried out very well.  Everything I found a little awkward in Soulless is executed with practiced ease here--Carriger has found her stride.

 The Parasol Protectorate books are about adventure and bravery as much as they are about decorum, romance, and fashion.  Carriger’s prose is overabundant with clever and deliciously wicked observations.  She doesn’t pause much to give an extended exposition and build a world for her readers, but she doesn’t have to.  It may seem at first Carriger is taking for granted the alternatives of her world we are unfamiliar with.  In truth, she gathers each new element with the historical, adds some silk, ribbons, and etiquette until the entire ensemble comes out as an entirely new character.  The absurdity of her world is matched only by that of the Vampires, Werewolves, and other delightfully ravishing and charismatic characters surrounding Alexia.  I get the feeling that Carriger has only begun to unravel Alexia’s world.  It’s an exercise in patience and imagination waiting to appreciate (because I know I will) what she has in store for us next.

Quite masterfully, Carriger drops unanswered questions and dangling plot elements at the mercy of our expectations. Noticing these in the narrative herself, it may seem heavy-handed or extremely leading for a character to point out an unanswered question by the end of the book. I’d like to think those references are in the spirit of the series.  The prose has an awareness of itself that I think, in pointing out what hasn’t been addressed, remembers to include us on the outrageous journey.  For a character to remind Alexia, “but what about…” it is really Carriger taking us by the hand, handing us a cup of tea and sitting us down to relax with a delicious bite before the next journey begins.  There will be more, this says, but one must always take time for tea.

Thank you, Orbit Books, for my Advance Copy of Changeless!

How many Jawas recommend this book?

Blameless, the third Parasol Protectorate book will be out in September, but I warn you: stay away from any blurbs about the book. There are huge spoilers involved on a scale so massive, I hesitate to even hint about it here.

Liked the review? Looking forward to the release at the end of the month? I have an extra copy to give away! Contest only open to US residents and ends tomorrow, March 21st.


Anonymous said...

Ah! This gives me hope! Perhaps I will try to find this one after all...

Anonymous said...

This makes me quite excited about Changeless! Thanks for the review :)

Heather (a.k.a. Bella) said...

I'm so anxious for this! Great review!

Anonymous said...

Good review. ^^ I have the first sitting on my bookshelf to read.

Erika said...

@TJ: I would give this one a chance. If, after reading Changeless, you still feel the same way as you did after Soulless, then you might want to stop then. I do think this one had less of what bothered me so much in the last book. Like I said, though, I can't be sure if it's because I knew what I was getting into, or if it was intentional.

@temporaryworlds: I'm still excited about it! You're welcome. :)

@Heather: Thank you! This series is a lot of fun.. :)

@jedisakora: Thank you. :) If you wind up liking the first, then you'll want to have Changeless waiting for you.

Anonymous said...

ah, the first time I read this I missed the ARC part and then I was all upset because it was out and I didn't know! Thanks for the review! I look forward to reading this even more now!

Erika said...

@roseeyedangel: I'm glad you caught that part! You're welcome for the review. I'm already anticipating Blameless; we're pretty lucky to get not one, but two Alexia Tarabotti novels in one year. :)

Just remember: March 30th is the official release date for Changeless!

Jennifer said...

Soulless has been on my TBR list for a little while now, and with Changeless coming out, I think it would be a great weekend project to read them both! I've heard just good things about them (this review included).

Erika said...

@Jennifer: Absolutely! That sounds like a good weekend project to me. :)

Anonymous said...

Are there those stupid moments when Alexia turnes into a *s-l-u-t* and almost stats having sex with Macoon while it is really not the best moment for that?
A hated it in the first book.

Erika said...

@nadinthedreamer: I don't mean to offend you, but I'm amused you're spelling out a word in a way that works best, and is most intended for, verbal articulation.

They still have a few intimate moments, but most often are not during inappropriate times. If they are (there is one scene in particular I am thinking of), Carriger toned it down considerably before the momentum of the plot escalated in an entirely different sort of climax.

starmetal_oak said...

Glad to hear you liked it! I loved the first book and if the second is even better then I can't wait to read it.

Erika said...

@starmetal_oak: I've grown very fond of this series. :)

Lily Child said...

*Squee!* I am sooooo excited to read this one! :D

Erika said...

@Lily Child: They're great, fun books. :)

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