Steampunk Bitch Beer: How Gail Carriger’s Changeless Makes Me Question My Taste

Since I’m on a kick to actually finish a book series in a timely manner, I picked up Gail Carriger’s second novel in The Parasol Protectorate series, Changeless.

My copy before I trashed it
My copy before I trashed it

I know. I’ve been obsessing with the Dark Tower for the past few months, so it doesn’t quite make sense that I’ve backtracked from a series of that caliber to Victorian steampunk fluff. It’s like exchanging golden Scotch for bitch beer. I fully understand the hypocrisy of my actions.

It’s simply that I needed something swift, something flighty, something I could skip reading for a few weeks and pick back up like it didn’t matter. My November weekends are booked, I’ve been working through my lunch hour more and more these days, and the holidays are around the corner. I really don’t have time to obsess over a book and go through the sinful dilemma of if I should read or write in my precious me-time hours. I’m trying not to have another month like September and October.

I read the first novel, Soulless, a few years before (of course), and due to my improper upbringing and lack of sufficient Victorian vocabulary, can only describe it as meh. I made the mistake of gushing about it to someone. See, if you tell someone you’re into a topic, they’ll assume you’re really into it all the time (bless their souls), which was how I acquired the next three Parasol Protectorate books all in a neat row.

They’ve been gathering dust on my shelf for a while.

I anticipated the second novel to be a delightful diversion. Entertainment smeared in frosting and lined with gumdrops, which boasted rapier wit on the back cover. A gingerbread house. Yes, Changeless was a gingerbread house.

Alas, the first hundred pages were met with many an eye roll and it wasn’t until I was on a plane heading to Las Vegas that I ended up getting sucked into the story. I cruised through a hundred pages in a smooth hour and a half. Coming home, I finished the damn book. Blame it on being in the aether or simply being confined to one place for an extended period of time, but I was hooked, especially when Alexia Tarabotti’s werewolf of a husband disappeared.

I don’t particularly like Lord Connall Maccon. He’s loud. He’s big. He believes loyalty should be valued above all else. He’s an iconic alpha male who stomps around and has sex with Alexia in the most inconvenient places and times. She resists, but falls to his tender, yet forceful ministrations. Ugh.

Even Alexia is kind enough to point out his poor timing: “ Seeing no one around to forestall his action, the earl slammed his wife up against the wall, pressing the full length of his body against hers. ‘Ooomph,’ said his wife. ‘Not now.’”

My sentiments exactly. We’ve got a mummy and a curse that turns the supernatural human and he wants to have sex? Oh god. I’m that reader.

Once Connall runs off to tend to his abandoned pack in Scotland, Alexia goes on a surprisingly wonderful adventure with her comedic relief (honestly, though, do we really need one?) bestie Ivy Hisslepenny to a hat shop in London. Alexia meets the dashing Madame LeFoux whose manly attire, dimples, and shameless flirting made me hope this would be the start of a beautiful, if strange, relationship. They even take a dirigible trip together to Scotland to track down Alexia’s husband. Poor Alexia didn’t quite catch on that Madame LeFoux is a lesbian until she has a late-to-the-party ah-ha moment at the end of the book, but it made moments like these that much more precious:

 “Alexia brushed the hair aside in a soft caress, startling the Frenchwoman, and leaned in, overcome with curiosity…misinterpreting her continued physical contact, the lady inventor twisted to face her, their noses practically touching. Madame LeFoux slid her hand up Alexia’s arm.

Lady Maccon had read that Frenchwomen were much more physically affectionate than British women in their friendship, but there was something unbearably personal in the touch. And no matter how good she smelled or how helpful she had been, there was that octopus mark to consider. Madame LeFoux could not be trusted.”

The best, best, part of this is that Alexia is unconsciously just as into Madame LeFoux as Madame LeFoux is into Alexia. I had grand visions of an emerging sexual conundrum on our hands. Even if they simply had a straight-woman-lesbian best friendship, I would have been really really okay with that.

Sadly though, my dreams of female powerhouses were not to be realized for as soon as the dirigible landed, Lord Maccon charges to the rescue. My interest in the story took a nosedive, but didn’t crash. I don’t mean to be cruel, after all the Alpha male can be just as alluring as the Beta or Gamma, and after inwardly complaining about him, I took a step back to think if I enjoyed any alpha male character. The first one that came to mind was Lucivar from Anne Bishop’s Dark Jewels trilogy. And I love Lucivar.

Lord Maccon has traits that drive me up the wall. He’s a poor communicator. Alexia endlessly reminds him how they had to work on communication to maintain their marriage. He’s a disbelieving turd. Near the end, Alexia discovers she is pregnant, even though werewolves cannot sire children. We all know she hasn’t had an affair, but Lord Maccon doesn’t, and ends up screaming a series of terrible things at her until she’s afraid of him. That part stunned me. He takes a confident woman and tears her to pieces.

 “She was afraid of him now. He did not move toward him—in fact he’d backed further away toward the door—but his hands were fisted white at his thighs, his eyes had changed to wolf yellow, and his canines were long and extended. She was immeasurably grateful when Madame LeFoux physically interposed herself between Alexia and the earl’s verbal tirade. As though, somehow, the inventor could provide a barrier to his horrible words.”

Maybe it’s because I’ve witnessed relationships that have had those kinds of problems that made Connall all the more unappealing, but I couldn’t wait for Alexia to drop him like he’s NOT and go have exciting adventures with her new lesbian BFF and find a new man to spice up her life. Words can hurt and while Carriger did not deem Connall’s diatribe worthy of actual dialogue, I could imagine the slew of cruelty he slung at her. I understand the injustice. He believes he’s a cuckold, but he barely allows her to get a sentence in before he’s storming off. I’ve felt Alexia’s fear before and it is far from pleasant.

Beyond that, the emergence of potential Favorite Character made me want to read the next book right away, breaking my cardinal rule of not reading a series all in one gulp. I had very little interest in Professor Lyall’s modest and rule-abiding demeanor, but with the help of an itty bitty spoiler (I am ashamed), it put his character into perspective. Suddenly I wanted to know everything about him right this instant.

Professor Lyall spies on the sneaky Westminster Vampire Hive to figure out the source of the supernatural-to-human curse, finally aligning himself with Lord Akeldama and conducting an undercover mission with Biffy, Lord Akeldama’s vampire drone. While I detest the name Biffy, this little bit of dialogue after they destroyed an aethographic transmitter had me at hello:

“’What did you do?’

‘Well you see, there was this pot of tea, simply sitting there…’ he [Biffy] trailed off.

‘Useful thing, tea,’ commented Lyall thoughtfully.

I think I’ll go make a pot myself.

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