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Review: Changeless by Gail Carriger

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Potential Spoiler Alert: I try to keep my reviews spoiler-free, but the summary paragraph of this review does contain a spoiler for the end of the first book, Soulless.

In nineteenth century England, Lady Alexia Maccon is discovering that there are all sorts of inconveniences to being married to a werewolf—small ones, such as waking up to find an entire military regiment camped on one’s front lawn, and large ones, such as one’s husband taking off to Scotland to see to “family business” without so much as a how-do-you-do. Even more inconvenient, however, is the sudden inability of London’s supernatural creatures to use any supernatural abilities. With her (unwanted and unexpected) friend Ivy Hisselpenny and sister Felicity in tow, Alexia heads to Scotland to solve the mystery of what’s disabling London’s supernatural set—before this weapon, if it is one, can be used against them.

Changeless is the second Alexia Tarabotti novel, and the setting is a lot of fun. The steampunk elements were just background in Soulless (the first book), but Changeless amps it up a few notches. There are some steampunk standards, like airships and seriously pimped-out parasols, but there are also a couple of unique gizmos that enhance the setting’s cool factor. The tone of the setting is also effectively established, both through the narration and the characters’ dialogue (even though “effectively established” sometimes means “wishing the characters would stop talking about their hats”).

The novel sets up a number of great conflicts, but ultimately fails to deliver. There are some interesting and entertaining subplots throughout, but the main plot isn’t one of them. Alexia’s attempt to discover what’s affecting the supernaturals doesn’t pick up steam until the last half (at least!) of the novel. The stakes are never very clear, and there’s absolutely no new information revealed until near the novel’s end. The characters are clueless as well as changeless, and even the resolution happens through accident as much as action.

The plots involving the side characters are much more successful, and are really what keeps the novel going. An entertaining (if somewhat silly—but that’s appropriate for a somewhat silly character) romance, a traitor in Alexia’s midst, and a leaderless werewolf pack mean that there’s still plenty to like. There’s only one exception to this, but it’s a glaring one. The novel introduces a new character, with much fanfare and much potential to go interesting places . . . and that character proceeds to do absolutely nothing.

So far I haven’t mentioned any internal conflict. That’s because there’s very little of it, and it all occurs in a lump at the end. Alexia is altogether more confident in Changeless than she is in Soulless, and while the change is perfectly believable, a character who doesn’t experience a few low points is difficult to sympathize with. The change in character also affects the novel’s resolution—Alexia’s response to the punishment that the ending heaps on her is, again, perfectly believable, but it is also somewhat frustrating and abrupt.

Changeless is a fun read even though I was disappointed in a number of places--and I should add that I really enjoyed Blameless, the third book in the series.

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