Monday, May 24, 2010

Changeless Book Review

Touching Ms. Gail Carriger's new novel Changeless, where does one begin? It starts promisingly enough. One is re-introduced to the cavalcade of characters which made her previous endeavor, Soulless, such an unmitigated success. However, certain of these characters might offend those of more delicate sensibilities.

I am, of course, referring primarily to the character of Lady Maccon, formerly Miss Alexia Tarabotti, the young lady whose preternatural condition lends its name to the first novel. Lady Maccon is rather in the way of being an outspoken woman, and were it not for her publicly-expressed disapprobation of the methods of Mrs. Pankhurst and her ilk, one might mistake her for a liberated woman, concerned with rational dress and votes for women.

As if her personality alone were not enough to make polite ladies avert their eyes, her husband, Lord Maccon, is a scandal himself. He is a werewolf, and given their propensities for overindulgence in meat and for running about starkers, it isn't any wonder that such a condition should be viewed with skepticism by members of polite society. That he is also a Scotsman, will no doubt inform members of the reading public as to the nature of both his character and his temperament. However, this is somewhat mitigated by the fact that he only resorts to speaking in that hideous northern dialect in moments of extreme stress. Unfortunately, such moments seem rather in the way of being commonplace, owing to his position within BUR.

In addition to the happy couple, one is likely to encounter several other characters, close associates of the two in question. Of these, one need not know much, save that the most scrupulous and polite of the lot is himself a werewolf, giving one a thorough indication as to the nature of the company Lady Maccon keeps.

To these characters, are introduced two others, of which special mention might be required. To begin with, there is Major Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings, the Gamma of Woolsey pack. Major Channing Channing makes his presence felt almost from the very first. His role, while small, is nonetheless of some import throughout the proceedings, and I am certain that readers will look favorably on his continued presence in future works, owing to his pleasing features and noble upbringing. Indeed, one wonders if perhaps he is not distantly related to the noted actor, Mr. Cyril Bassington-Bassington, who is himself considering the possibility of service as a claviger, owing to the excess of soul which has heretofore caused his poor mother such public embarrassment.

The second of these newcomers to the stories is a Madame Lefoux, a fascinating creature, whose extraction is, regrettably, quite French. But one must forgive her the lamentable circumstances of her birth, as she really is quite keen on all matters mechanical, and a deft hand in the service and repair of practically any modern scientific device. As an ardent supporter of all matters aeronautical, one cannot help but laud a woman like Madame Lefoux for her expertise in the realm of the scientific. However, she is possessed of one character flaw which prevents her travel in the upper echelons of English society - the lady has taken to the wearing of gentlemen's attire.

But what I say is - why not? After all, much of the action takes place in the aether, aboard a dirigible, and ladies' attire is at best unseemly, and at worst suicidal, aboard such contraptions (regardless of Giffard's protestations to the contrary). One only has to listen to the words of the late, but ever-fashionable Miss Harriet Quimby, who once commented, "If a woman wants to fly, first of all, she must, of course, abandon skirts and don a knickerbocker uniform." Naturally then, while her attire might appear scandalous to most observers, Madame Lefoux's manner of dress is in fact wholesome, sanitary, rational, and dare I say it - comfortable. Indeed, it is this correspondent's opinion that such styles should be encouraged, as much as possible, and coupled with Burberry flying coats, which are known for their sound construction and ability to deflect castor oil and water with equal aplomb.

At any rate, the plot of the novel proceeds rather quickly, introducing the reader to the danger which gives the book its title. Namely, the supernaturals in London are, for a time, returned to human form, and the werewolves are completely unable to effect their oft-noted transformation. As the muhjah, an agent in Her Majesty's service, it falls to Lady Maccon, and her husband to a lesser extent, to discover the nature of this strange occurrence. The investigations into the matter take Lady Maccon and her husband from London to the wilds of Scotland, which really is quite a morose place. And anyway, the food is terrible, though I suppose any food is better than the food served on dirigibles nowadays. But back to the point of the thing, Lady Maccon's life is placed in peril on several occasions, and the plot takes not a few convincing twists and turns, leading to a satisfying conclusion - or so one might be led to believe.

Much ink has been spilled on the issue of the book's ending, and I must say that it is an absolute travesty. I mean, honestly, I fairly devoured the book, and then I got to the end (or a chapter before the end anyway) and I was feeling really braced with things. It had all worked out all-right and things had sorted themselves out nicely, and the heroes were where they needed to be, and the villains were where they needed to be (namely lying in a sort of breathless state on the lawn, never to rise again). And it all seemed pretty bally all right as far as I was concerned. But then the ending! It gave me the deuce of a shock!

Ahem. I must apologize for my outburst, but such is the state of your humble correspondent's emotions so soon after having read the ending of the story, that she was quite incapable of controlling herself. The old nerves simply can't abide such suspense without recourse to speech more befitting young gentlemen at drones clubs. At any rate, the novel ends in what is commonly referred to in the penny dreadful trade as a 'cliffhanger.' That is to say, there is a major development of immense import, one which tugs effectively at the old heartstrings, and then the book jolly well ends, leaving one to wonder at the outcome.

And to that, I have but one thing to say to Ms. Gail Carriger, the author - Bravo. I shall be purchasing the next installment of the series, which is due to be released on my birthday.

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