I wanted to like this book. I really did. But... I found it very... enh. The plot doesn't hold together all that well, and I'm not a fan of the author...moreI wanted to like this book. I really did. But... I found it very... enh. The plot doesn't hold together all that well, and I'm not a fan of the author's storytelling style. She's trying to be clever by holding back information, but really it just muddies everything. It doesn't help that the two main characters spend the entire book not knowing what the heck is going on, and since it's third-limited from their perspectives, the reader has no idea what's going on, either. And I had trouble visualising. Her descriptions are sort of... bland? I'm not sure if that's the right word. It sort of felt like she left out what could be important details about the setting. Anyway, they didn't grab me, and as such, I had trouble picturing what was going on. I also didn't come to care about any of the characters, and I always have trouble engaging with a book when that's the case.
I enjoyed the hell out of this book. And I wasn’t expecting to. I’d heard enough mixed things that I approached it with some trepidation. But I was ve...moreI enjoyed the hell out of this book. And I wasn’t expecting to. I’d heard enough mixed things that I approached it with some trepidation. But I was very, very pleasantly surprised. That doesn’t mean the book is without its flaws — but, as I’ve noted before, a book doesn’t necessarily have to be technically superior to be enjoyable. And there’s much to like about Soulless.
Alexia Tarabotti has no soul. Apart from leaving her little creativity in her dress (and perhaps making her over-sensitive to flamboyant fashion sense in others), it doesn’t really affect her daily life. It’s just a fact of her being. It also gives her the power to neutralize supernaturals, who lose their powers in her presence, and this fascinating ability has started to attract interest from unexpected quadrants.
I love the approach to the supernatural here, because it’s so refreshingly new. But not in a Twilight-I’m-going-to-ignore-all-folklore-and-history-and-just-make-up-my-own-crap-based-on-whatever-I-think-is-cool kind of way. In a very clever, thoughtful kind of way. Carriger has decided to attribute the phenomenal success of the British Empire to supernatural beings – primarily vampires and werewolves.
Well, Carriger did not disappoint me. Changeless is a delightful book, and while it's not perfect, it definitely improves on Soulless. The twee elemen...moreWell, Carriger did not disappoint me. Changeless is a delightful book, and while it's not perfect, it definitely improves on Soulless. The twee elements are definitely toned down here -- the narrative voice didn't aggravate me nearly as much as in the first book.
The plot in this book is more a true mystery. A plague of humanization has incapacitated supernaturals, first in London, then moving up the Isle and all the way into Scotland. Alexia, charged by the Queen to investigate just this sort of thing, treks northward, with a most unusual party in tow: her beyond-bratty sister Felicity, her feather-headed friend Ivy, an exciteable actor-turned-claviger called Tunstell, and a crafty, cross-dressing French inventor, Madame Lefoux.
Can I just say? I adore Genevieve Lefoux. She's just the sort of alternate strong female character I was hoping for throughout Soulless. She's warmer, more affectionate, and more charming than Alexia, which makes them excellent foils for each other. I also love Carriger's willingness to let her characters have alternate sexualities -- between Akeldama and his drones and then Lefoux's proclivities, it's quite refreshing. Yes, Madame Lefoux doesn't just eschew feminine frippery in favour of well-tailored male clothing, she's also a lesbian. I find myself hoping that Genevieve will eventually get to have her way with Alexia, who does seem to get a frisson of excitement out of their interactions. Probably not likely, but still something I can hope for, and if not in canon... well, there's always fanfic. ;)
**spoiler alert** Spoiler Warning: Not only for Blameless but for Changeless. Do NOT read this review unless you’ve read Changeless.
Blameless opens ju...more**spoiler alert** Spoiler Warning: Not only for Blameless but for Changeless. Do NOT read this review unless you’ve read Changeless.
Blameless opens just about exactly where Changeless left off, give or take a couple of weeks. With Conall in a foaming rage about her supposed infidelity, as evidenced by her supposedly impossible pregnancy, Alexia flees his house to return to the less-than-warm bosom of her family. When word gets out about her indelicate state, however, Alexia faces censure from the Queen and shame from Society. In a very short amount of time, she’s gone from overlooked to quite prominent to entirely ostracized.
So, Alexia takes to the Continent. As in Changeless, she has a traveling party with her, but this time it’s a far more high-functioning crowd: her father’s erstwhile dogsbody Floote, clever inventor Madame Lefoux, and former Woolsey pack claviger Tunstell. They end up in Italy, land of the super-religious Templars, hoping that their religious tomes will hold some clue to the nature of preternaturals and an explanation for this unexpected pregnancy.
And they do. We learn a lot about preternaturals, both in Italy and along the way. We learn some various theories about how they interact with supernaturals, about their place in the cosmos, and we see that the Templars treat Alexia rather like an infectious plague, in fact considering her a demon (or, rather, daemon, but I have trouble spelling it that way thanks to His Dark Materials where that’s something completely different). The metaphysics here are really quite fascinating, if you like that sort of thing (which I do), and some of the Continental scientists are pretty excellent satires of Victorian-era medicine. The hysteria, the casual sexism, the bizarre theories and even more bizarre solutions — it’s a nice bit of parody. And kudos to Carriger for taking her story out of England.
This may be my favourite of the Parasol Protectorate series thus far. The wit is sharp, the action crisp, and the plot tight, all of which make for a...moreThis may be my favourite of the Parasol Protectorate series thus far. The wit is sharp, the action crisp, and the plot tight, all of which make for a highly enjoyable read.
In Heartless, Alexia receives a message from a ghost indicating that someone is planning to kill the queen. Naturally, Alexia does not see her considerably advanced pregnancy as any reason not to get to the bottom of the plot -- not any more than her move into Lord Akeldama's second closet should disrupt her affairs. (Why has she taken up residence with the new vampire potentate? Well, it appears to be the way to get the Westminster Hive to stop trying to kill her and her infant-inconvenience, which was really starting to become a considerable distraction to her). Investigating the matter takes Alexia deep into the worlds and secrets of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts alike, forcing her to put brainpower and sheer stubbornness together until she uncovers all the pieces of the puzzle.
I quite liked the twists and turns in the plotline. I was able to guess enough of them to feel clever, but not so many that it felt predictable, which is really the perfect balance in a thriller. The red herrings aren't just thrown out for the sake of being there; they lead down paths of their own, vitally important to the characters and to the overall series, even if they're not tied to the main mystery of this book. I appreciate that, because few things are so frustrating in a story as a loose end dangling out there without payoff.
What I liked best about Heartless, though, was how much we got to explore the emotions and the psychological landscapes of the various characters -- Lyall, Ivy, Genevieve, Akeldama, all of them get new revelations, new layers, and new facets. Alexia's explorations, as she attempts to get to the bottom of the threat against the queen, unveil a lot of personal history. Add to all of this Carriger's usual quick wit and frothy sense of irreverence, and you've got a thoroughly compelling read.
Overall, I recommend Heartless as strongly as the rest of the series -- Alexia's story just keeps getting better. These books are inventive, intriguing, and just plain fun. They embody a lightheartedness, a willingness not to take themselves seriously, that I think the steampunk genre can really benefit from -- I'd love to see more like this, and I can't wait to keep following Carriger's writing, hopefully for many years to come.
The Parasol Protectorate series has just kept getting better as it's gone along, and 'Timeless' did not disappoint me. I think it's the best...more4.5 stars
The Parasol Protectorate series has just kept getting better as it's gone along, and 'Timeless' did not disappoint me. I think it's the best of the series. All of the characters are handled well, Carriger's descriptions are both vivid and precise, and her dialogue, as always, sparkles with wit and humour. Like the rest of the series, this is steampunk with a fine froth and a sense of humour.
'Timeless' jumps two years forward from 'Heartless', two years that have been peaceful -- well, as peaceful as anything is likely to get in the Maccon household. Then Alexia gets, by way of the local vampire queen, a summons to appear with her daughter in Alexandria (yes, the one in Egypt) before Matakara, the oldest vampire living. At the same time, Sidhaeg -- Conall's multi-great-granddaughter and Alpha of his old Scottish pack -- shows up, looking for her missing Beta, who had been in Egypt on a mission for her. The Beta reappears, but gets murdered before he can get more than a few words out to Alexia. So Alexia packs up her family -- and the Tunstells and their acting troupe -- and heads out via steamer (werewolves being notoriously poor floaters). From there, the story whirls through a sequence of mishaps, supernatural political entanglements, and strange occurrences. The action clips along at a great pace, both in Alexandria and back at home, as the Maccons abroad and the wolf pack back at home both try to sort out the mystery of the God-Breaker Plague.
The really great thing here is Carriger's ability to not forget character development admist all the action. For a lot of the book, that really shines in Biffy and Lyall, though we do get a fair bit out of Alexia and Conall as well. Biffy's swiftly becoming my favourite character in the whole series, really, because he goes through such a transformative journey from when we meet him to the end of this book. Without giving too much away, Carriger handles the various aspects of his personality and relationship dynamics really well, with a lot of tenderness and a lot of psychological awareness. She handles the expanding cast of characters without sacrificing any emotional realism, and she jumps back and forth between the two plotlines in a way that makes sure the reader never loses sight of what's going on.
I've said throughout the series that Carriger is at her best when she's writing for herself, with her own style, rather than emulating other genres, and in 'Timeless', she seems to have trusted that impulse entirely. There are no moments of narrative awkwardness, where the story feels like something else has collided into it from the outside; rather, we are treated to the continuing adventures of Alexia et al in Carriger's own witty voice. It's a delight. My only criticism is that the denouement ties up a little too quickly. I could've used a bit more exploration of the new constructs our characters find themselves in at the end of the series, about how they're going to move forward from here on out. Ultimately, it just ended way too soon; I could have happily spent a lot more time with these characters.
'Timeless' is an adventure story that manages to be lighthearted and emotionally tugging at the same time. Carriger gives us characters we can care about, but without ever taking herself too seriously. The series as a whole has fantastic energy, superb wit, and a sparkle that I've yet to find in other steampunk literature. The Parasol Protectorate series is just plain fun. I'm tremendously sorry to say goodbye to this series, but I'm delighted that Carriger's world will be continuing in the YA Finishing School Series and the adult Parasol Protectorate Abroad series. The former will take place some twenty-five years earlier in the AU's history; the latter is due to feature our Prudence, all grown up and taking on the world. Both are due out in 2013, and I eagerly anticipate their arrival.
I was super-excited to get my hands on Ms. Carriger’s latest novel, her first foray into YA fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed her Parasol Protectorate series, and I’m so glad that she’s decided to continue on in this world even though she wrapped that series up. Etiquette & Espionage did not disappoint me.
Sophronia, a fourteen-year-old youngest daughter in the 1850s, is unusual. She climbs dumbwaiters and gets herself into terrible fixes and is generally an embarrassment to her family, a socially-aspirant gentry . Little does her mother know that when she packs Sophronia off to finishing school, she’s actually giving the girl just what she needs. Her unusual new circumstances first become apparent when she chats with Dimity, also headed to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, and her brother Pillover, destined for Bunson and Lacroix’s Boys’ Polytechnique. As Dimity chatters cheerfully about evil geniuses, covert recruits, Picklemen, and Custard Pots of Iniquity, Sophronia begins to suspect something is odd. When her carriage is attacked by flywaymen, their escort goes into unconvincing hysterics, and Sophronia has to take command of the horses and rescue them all, her suspicions are rather confirmed.
It turns out that Sophronia has landed at a school designed not only to turn her into a lady but to turn her lethal as well. Or, rather, the Academy has landed at her — for it’s a floating school, suspended from enormous balloons. A werewolf named Captain Niall (!) serves as ship-to-ground transport and teaches combat, a vampire covers history and deportment, mechanical staff patrol the hallways as prefects, the students learn poisons and manipulation alongside powders and manners, and the headmistress has no idea that any of it is going on. Sophronia begins to settle in at the Academy and into an easy friendship with Dimity, though she has more trouble with the others in her dormitory. Sidhaeg (!) is prickly and recalcitrant, Agatha a shy wallflower, Preshea a snob, and Monique is none other than their escort, demoted back to debut rank for refusing to give up the whereabouts of the mysterious “prototype” which the flywaymen were after. Sophronia and Monique do not get on at all, and their rivalry drives much of the action in the book. Sophronia also uses her climbing abilities to sneak into the restricted areas, where she makes friends with the sooties who keep the ship running, including Soap, a London-born boy of African descent (and props to Carriger for including a non-white character in an English historical novel!). Sophronia, never having seen a black person before, is startled by him at first but gets over it quickly. The two become friends, and Soap introduced her to Vieve (!), niece to Professor Beatrice Lefoux (!) and a budding inventor. As the plot progresses, Sophronia finds them tremendously useful in her various schemes and maneuvers.
[...] Overall, I’m quite pleased with Etiquette & Espionage. There were a few bumps that kept it from perfection, in my opinion, but — that’s true of the first couple Harry Potter books as well. For a first dive into YA fiction, Carriger’s done a lovely job. I absolutely devoured this first installment, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the series goes.(less)