Blog Entries posted by Silk
Source: Welcome to Reading Excuses
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.
The superhero era has come and gone. The war has been won, the world’s villains are all behind bars, and the heroes are no longer needed. That doesn’t mean they don’t have problems, though ... and Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman, psychologist, is here to help.
The world’s most powerful heroes have been ordered into therapy, and their jobs depend on the results. But therapy only becomes more difficult when Dr. Brain announces the death of the revered Hawk King, a personal mentor to many of Brain’s charges. Bad feelings erupt, dirty secrets emerge, and what seems like a crazy conspiracy theory suddenly becomes a very real threat . . . if only to the sanity of some of the world’s greatest heroes.
There are some truly brilliant things about this book, not least of which is the premise. The novel is written and formatted as a self-help book for superheroes, authored by none other than Dr. Brain herself. The novel is interspersed with brief “psychological” interludes, but mostly relies on Brain’s observations of her case studies: the heroes who become this novel’s main characters and form the backbone of the plot. Oh, and don’t forget to read the advance praise for Unmasked, Brain’s fictional self-help book—it’s hilarious.
The format is more than just a cool gimmick. One of the most impressive things about this novel is just how efficiently Faust uses the self-help format to portray Brain’s character. While I don’t like Brain (more on that later), I’m absolutely confident that I dislike her and doubt her in exactly the ways I’m supposed to. Although the novel isn’t really about her, she’s certainly its most engaging character. The other characters, unfortunately, weren’t portrayed quite so deftly. Let’s start with the small things:
I hate them all.
To be fair, readers aren’t supposed to like these characters. But even aside from spending a whole book with unlikeable characters, there are lots of problems here. For one thing, almost every character uses some kind of dialect. It’s a superficial problem, sure. But it’s also extremely prevalent, and seems to exist for the express purpose of making each character as annoying as possible. In fact, there’s so much emphasis on the characters’ various eccentricities, problems, and annoying habits that some of them initially feel more like caricatures than characters. They do become more believable as the book progresses, and some of them even become more likeable. Some of them, on the other hand, just become more disagreeable.
The biggest problem with all of these unlikeable characters is that there’s just not enough payoff to make enduring them quite worthwhile. The novel’s ending is ambiguous, and while it’s appropriate in a lot of ways, it works more on an intellectual level than a visceral one. This applies especially to Brain herself—I was sure that Faust’s brilliant portrayal of the narrator was leading up to something spectacular, and in the end Brain’s role doesn’t matter all that much.
Even so, this book is absolutely worth the read. There are some interesting ideas here, and some aspects are very well done indeed. At times, though, reading it might feel more like work than play, and you might experience a little disappointment along the way.