Because, well, life gets boring if you don’t try something new every once in a while, I’m going to attempt a book review. That said, I have no idea what I’m doing.
I’ve waited, hmmm…how long?, for Gail Carriger’s newest “Blameless“, and thanks to a snafu at Borders I had to wait even longer. But at least I arrived at home, on my day off, with a copy. And promptly devoured it in a matter of hours. I should probably admit that I went to the back and read a few pages to be assured that things ended satisfactorily, so that I wasn’t on pins and needles the whole time, and could actually enjoy reading. I was not disappointed.
You really do have to read the prior two books, “Soulless” and “Changeless“, to have a grasp on the characters and the story of “Blameless” otherwise you’ll be lost, or very, very confused. To summarize, Lady Alexia Maccon, nee Tarabotti, was born, like her, ahem, Italian father, soulless, that is to say, without a soul. This situation is considered, like her intelligence and Italian features (olive skin and prominent nose), not a plus in the Victorian society she lives in. While England has embraced the supernatural, werewolves and vampires are an everyday (or night) part of life, they are still wary of the far rarer preternatural, or soulless. Alexia has the power to steal away a supernatural’s power with her touch, so she’s not too popular with them either.
At the beginning of the book she has already been kicked out by her husband who is pretty darn sure that the baby she’s carrying is not his. He’s wrong of course, and is being an idiot. (His discovery of the pregnancy, the resulting scene and my resulting disappointment in him caused me to thrown my copy of “Changeless” against the wall). After a murder attempt by mechanized ladybugs (Oh, did I not mention that this was steampunk? My apologies.) she departs for Italy to seek out the Templars, who are alive and well and have something else to crusade against.
The story moves along quite nicely. I don’t think there was ever a time that I really thought, “Oh for god’s sake, why is this scene here?” It does take our travellers (yeah, go read the book) quite a while to actually reach Italy and the Templars, but it serves to introduce new characters (we learn who actually created said mechanized ladybugs).
As to the characters, and character development – there is some! One of the things I really like about Carriger’s books is that her characters grow. They never arrive at a decision that leaves you thinking, “Huh? Where did that come from?” and they never stay the same, much like, well, everyone I know. Professor Lyall gets more of focus this book, and his role as Beta to the Woolsey pack is highlighted. Me, I’m an alpha male girl, but I’ve found a newfound respect for the beta figure. The way I now see it, alpha’s make the decision, well, most of the time, and the beta’s are the ones who make sure things get done. While Lord Maccon is off drinking himself senseless (with formaldehyde, no less), Professor Lyall is simultaneously keeping the Woolsey pack together and dealing with the Alexia situation. When it comes time to give his alpha his comeuppance he doesn’t hesitate.
Ivy, she of the hideous hats and seeming stupidity, is shown to be much more than previously thought. She passes along information to Lyall in a harmless manner, then very cunningly mentions how she thought said information be useful, and that frequently people mistook silliness for stupidity. Lyall is forced to realize that if Ivy were so stupid Alexia probably wouldn’t be her friend. In this case, it’s not that the character developed, so much as our understanding of her developed.
Through the first two books Alexia’s character stayed fairly steadfast. Her hurt at being rejected by her husband was nice touch to a seemingly impenetrable reserve. Her cold, logical response to her baby – she calls him or her the “infant inconvenience” – does seem expected given her soulless nature, but a scene far along in the book reveals a possible cause for this, and she starts to feel some attachment. Giving far too much away let me say this, she does forgive her husband rather quickly, but I for one, completely understand. I did notice that Alexia got progressively more emotional as she neared Italy, which is, after all, her “home” of sorts. But maybe that’s too many years of reading literary criticism.
The tidy ending. Woo-hoo! Lord Maccon admits he’s an idiot, they escape the Templars, head back to England. Her position is restored in Her Majesty’s council (funny how Queen Victoria manages to be an uptight, judgemental prig no matter what genre of literature) and all is well, well, until the next book. Everything was tied up quite nicely,which I’m sure, as a reviewer, I should hate. Well I don’t, so phbbth! True, I would have enjoyed a bit more grovelling from the husband and I would have liked a slightly less tidy ending, but I’m still happy.
I don’t know if it would actually be considered political, but the prevailing schools of thought of the countries involved are interesting. England is, of course given Carriger’s own admitted prejudices, the shining beacon of tolerance for the supernatural (well, to a point). France is markedly less so, but not nearly as bad as Italy, the home of the Templars. In this Victorian age, the Templars are still around, wandering around wearing what Alexia describes as “nightgowns” with large red crosses emblazoned on them, acting as lord protectors of the souls of their charges, and making damn sure (pun intended) that souls are saved, whether they want to be or not. If you read the first two books it’s hard to understand why the English hate the Italians so much (besides the fact that they hate everyone “not them” – hey, in this world the English are actually the French!). After “Blameless” it’s much more clear. Really, the Templars are annoying and scary.
There was no set-up for “Heartless”, the next and presumably last book due out July 2011. In a way I’m sad, I would’ve liked a few hints. Mostly though, I’m glad. It irks me to no end that authors use books just to shill the next release. As it is, I’m happy with “Blameless”, which I will probably re-read repeatedly until next July, and I can’t wait for “Heartless”!