* Prices may differ from that shown
Miss Alexia Tarabotti, famously soulless and recently appointed mujah to Queen Victoria, has bowed to the inevitable and married the alpha of London's werewolf pack, Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey and though, according to the best fairy tales, they should now be living happily ever after, it seems that is not to be their immediate fate. The new Lady Maccon is rather taken aback to be rudely awoken at some ungodly hour of the afternoon by her husband shouting orders and rushing out the house claiming that he has business at the office. Lord Maccon then promptly disappears leaving Alexia to deal with the returning members of her husband's pack pitching camp on the lawn, a couple of rather frightened ghosts and a very cross monarch not to mention a mystery disappearance to solve. Just where has Lord Maccon gone and why?
I really enjoy fantasy novels and I especially love the spin-off genre of steampunk but it has to be said that some writers in these genres take themselves very seriously. For that very reason I've never been a huge fan of traditional fantasy and I really can't bear Tolkein's books as they always come across to me as being a bit on the pretentious side. What I really like are those writers who manage to inject some fun and humour into their chosen genre. One of the writers I've recently come across who manages to not only tell a great story whilst having her tongue firmly in her cheek but who has also created a zany yet oddly believable fantasy world is Gail Carriger, author of the wonderful steampunk series known as the Parasol Protectorate and featuring the intrepid Alexia Tarabotti.
This is the second book in the five book Parasol Protectorate series, the first one, Soulless, having established Alexia as a redoubtable heroine ably assisted by her parasol, hence the series title. Though certainly setting the scene for the series that book was essentially a paranormal romance. Most ongoing series tend to grind to a halt once the leading protagonists declare their love and settle down to married life but the author manages to overcome this obstacle by simply separating her newly-weds. Lord Maccon disappears to his old stamping ground in the wilds of Scotland, for reasons which become clearer as the story progresses, leaving Alexia to deal with a series of domestic problems as well as solve the mystery of his disappearance.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series and this second one was even better. Where the first book relied quite heavily on the interplay between the two main protagonists, this one depends almost entirely on the strength of Alexia's personality. Unlike many newly-weds, she isn't blind to her husband's faults (of which there are many) and she's a strong and independent female more than capable of dealing with the sort of incidents which beset heroines in steampunk novels.
This book isn't entirely a one-hander though and Alexia is aided and abetted in the search for her missing husband by a motley crew of friends, enemies and servants, all of whom are quirkily unique and certainly add greatly to the enjoyment of this story. We're reintroduced to several characters from the previous book as well as meeting some new ones and there are a couple of humorous subplots involving these characters to add to the fun.
Despite this being set in a totally unrealistic world inhabited by paranormal beings, it all seems very normal and that has to be largely due to the excellent world building from Gail Carriger. The London of Queen Victoria is blended seamlessly into the fantasy realm in which Alexia lives and the pacing of the story, though not as fast as the first book, allows the reader to learn far more about this world as the novel unfolds as well as giving extra information about the nature of Alexia's preternatural state and some of Connal's back story.
Changeless is a wonderful pastiche of nineteenth century adventure and detective stories; think Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, plus a dash of Victorian melodrama and all delivered in a spoof style which pokes gentle fun not only at those genres but at steampunk itself. It's written in the first person so the reader is only ever privy to the heroine's thought processes but I didn't regard that as a problem because her thoughts are very entertaining. Alexia being a pragmatist has no illusions about herself, her friends or her husband and she cuts a very direct and forceful swathe through this pseudo-Victorian society, ruffling lots of feathers as she goes.
Gail Carriger has created a wonderfully quirky heroine in Alexia Tarabotti and though she isn't someone you're ever likely to meet, she's likeable and entertaining. I'm not sure I like her husband quite as much, however. He's all shouting and bluster and though he's absent for a good deal of the book, I didn't miss him. The story rattles on at a goodly pace but don't expect a resolution to this episode in Alexia's life because the tale ends with a whacking big cliffhanger meaning it's almost impossible to resist buying the third book in the series.
At a pinch this story could be read as a standalone novel but I would advise you to start with book one of the series, Soulless, because this second book does rely in places on the reader knowing about events which have gone before.