I usually stay far, far away from vampire books (particularly vampire romances, though I disliked Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire as well) – all that blood (shudder). And I’m not really a werewolf enthusiast either. So even with all the sterling recommendations for Soulless, I wasn’t sure I’d try it…until I saw it. As soon as I read “vampires, werewolves, and parasols” I knew I’d give it a chance, and I’m glad I did, because I found it inventive, fun, and romantic. I had no such reservations about Changeless; already hooked, I sent the bookstore employee to hunt through his stockroom to find it for me. I found it well worth the effort. While I wouldn’t say Changeless is quite as good as its predecessor, it’s a respectable sophomore effort. The romance may be dialed back a bit, but the steampunk world-building is ramped up to compensate.
Alexia Maccon is settling into her new life as Lady Woolsey, and as muhjah to Queen Victoria (a special emissary-type role for a soulless/preternatural person). She may be happily married to a very amorous alpha werewolf, but they are still figuring out how to get along together. Conall Maccon doesn’t always include his wife in his decision-making, or even inform her of his exact whereabouts. When the military portion of his pack returns from India and commences camping on the front lawn of Woolsey, Alexia has to prove hew own alpha-ness. Then Alexia hears about a plague of humanity that is sweeping London: Vampires and Werewolves are human, and ghosts are completely exorcised. Is it a plague, or is it a weapon? After a conference with an old friend and an acquaintance with a new one (who makes Alexia a bigger, better parasol), Alexia finds herself traveling to Scotland after her husband (and, as it turns out, the humanization epidemic, which seems to be following him). Via dirigible. With an entourage including her annoying half-sister Felicity, her silly friend Ivy, her husband’s besotted claviger (werewolf in training), her French maid, and her equally French new acquaintance. Steampunk-y mayhem ensues.
The dirigible itself is fraught with danger, both from the attempts on Alexia’s life and the bland, horrible food. After an eventful trip, Alexia arrives in Scotland and finds herself knee-deep in werewolf politics. Scotland is the home of her husband’s former pack, whom he left under mysterious circumstances. They currently lack an alpha, and Conall must come up with a solution to their problem (and, as he neglected to inform Alexia, these are his relatives). From this point the book is about equal parts steamy technology, werewolf and family politics, and mystery (what is causing the humanization)? Much is resolved at the end, but there’s also a fairly surprising cliffhanger. I wouldn’t dream of giving it away, but suffice it to say those who insist on complete closure won’t see it here. At least not yet; Blameless arrives in September (and as a side note, the cover artist for this series deserves a raise).
So, Impressions. Overall, I enjoyed the book, although not in that same, heady-with-discovery kind of way that I enjoyed its predecessor. There is considerably more technology in this book, and the description of it is more detailed. Some of it has to do with the dirigibles, but there’s also a lot of info about a complicated, telegraph-like device. I liked this aspect, of the book, but don’t ask me to explain any of it. Along with the technology comes a new character – Madame Lefoux. She’s the designer of Alexia’s fancy new parasol, but there’s also more to her than meets the eye. She’s a woman who dresses like a man, owns a hat shop (in addition to inventing things). She also flirts with Alexia. I’m interested to see where this is all leading.
The relationship between Alexia and Conall takes more of a backseat in this book, although they are definitely negotiating and figuring out what it means to be married – especially in their unusual preternatural/werewolf combination. Conall has more of a past than Alexia realizes, as she has never given much thought to his pre-werewolf life. The relationship is still compelling, and closes on a note that will leave readers very anxious to see what happens in the next book.
Which brings me to a final point. This is, of course, a series. And it’s one you have to read in order. So while I’d encourage you to read Changeless, you really need to read Soulless first. Both are certainly worth the time, even if, like me, you are not much of a vampire or werewolf reader.