Gail Carriger

Orbit (2010)

ISBN: 978-0316074148

Reviewed by Tansy Roberts, Syndicated July 2010

Yes, I grabbed this one as soon as I saw it (spotted in an actual bookshop no less!) and gobbled it up pretty damn fast. While Changeless didn’t feel quite so intense as its predecessor Soulless, I was impressed at how comfortably the world set up in the first book continues. While there is a fairly enormous gap between the world of the Parasol Protectorate and actual Victorian London, I would take Carriger and her Alexia over Charles Dickens any day of the week.

It’s hard to discuss this one without spoiling the end of Book 1 for readers, so all I can say cagily is that Alexia’s situation has changed greatly, and she has settled into her new roles rather well, and we get to spend plenty of time with all the good characters from the first book, and get to know some great new ones.

The plot revolves around a new mystery – there is a plague appearing in patches across London and in other places across Britain, which robs the supernatural of their powers. Ghosts are being exorcised, vampires are losing their teeth, and werewolves can’t change – naturally since this is also the effect that Alexia has on the supernatural, being soulless, she is blamed for the situation. But there is a much more sinister plot afoot, and as the representative of Queen Victoria, it is up to Alexia to get to the bottom of it. Even if it means travelling to the darkest corners of civilisation – that is, Scotland.

I particularly liked the dirigible ride, which gave a real sense of how awesome and strange the whole zeppelin travel thing would be, and the awesome lady scientist Madame Lefoux. I rather liked the extra emphasis on mad science in this volume, especially as regards Alexia’s splendid new steampunk parasol. Really, this is the best parasol in the history of the universe. We all need one.

Another plus of this series is that Alexia is surrounded by women, so many different female characters! One of my frustrations with urban fantasy as a genre is how often the extraordinary female is surrounded by men, proving how well she fits into a masculine world: she can beat all the men and they all want to shag her. While Alexia deals very well with men, and I enjoy her various relationships with men particularly the fabulous Lord Akeldama and of course the growly Lord Maccon, it is her interactions with women that form the most important part of her circle: her daft friend Ivy and bitchy sister Felicity take centre stage in this story, along with her unflappable maid Angelique, the aforementioned Madame Lefoux, and a gloriously grouchy Scottish laird.

In short, Changeless is a joyful romp, a great follow up to Soulless, and has me chomping at the bit for the third book Blameless, which is out later this year. The revelation at the end was no particular surprise, nor was the reaction to it, and it is a touch annoying that the mystery behind it is so easily resolvable, but then it’s not about the secrets so much as the character interactions and I am very interested as to how the characters will deal with the ramifications. Yes, it’s mysterious. No spoilers here!