The problem with the current fashion for urban fantasy is that the novels tend to be pretty dour, humorless things. I suppose, on the one hand, that it's hard to be both gritty and light-hearted. I am, on the other hand, thoroughly bored with angst-ridden vampires and grim werewolves and brutal cities filled with ugly men and "feisty," "independent" women - feistiness and independence, of course, actually translating to "easily victimized" and "desperate co-dependence."
So it was with mounting pleasure that I read Gail Carriger's debut novel Soulless. Soulless proved to be that most rare and elusive genre-creature, a novel with a sense of humor and a smart heroine. Carriger gleefully uses and abuses genre conventions of all stripes, tossing mad scientists, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, a steampunky aesthetic and a hilariously off-kilter romance into a traditional Victorian novel of manners. The result is a delightful take on steampunk and a welcome remedy to all that grim urban fantasy that's populating the bookshelves these days.
Soulless' success netted Carriger a deal for four more novels in the series, and the first of these, Changless, has been out (in the States) for a few months now. We finally got our hands on a copy, and although it was as fun a read as the first, I'm sorry to say I found it a little disappointing.
My primary issue was with the heroine, Alexia Maccon, who was such a pleasure in the first novel. In contrast to her character in Soulless, the Alexia of Changeless is, well, kind of thick. I can't write too much about it without giving a few important plot twists away, so suffice it to say that, in Changeless, Alexia is surprisingly, repeatedly slow on the uptake. For your average dumb heroine, such slowness is sadly par for the course. Alexia, however, was so well characterized in the first novel as smart that her dopiness in its sequel is a real letdown.
The novel also suffers a bit from sequelitis, in that not much happens and a few loose ends are left at the novel's conclusion, to set up the next sequel. Changeless is definitely not a stand-alone novel, but few second-in-a-series novels are. And to be fair, Changeless doesn't suffer much from the disease - new characters are introduced organically and there aren't so many as to be annoying, or make the novel lose focus.
Ultimately, Changeless is a quick, fun read, and I'm looking forward to the next installments. I do hope, however, that Alexia gets her mojo back between now and then. For the record, however, I will always take mojo-free Alexia over any number of feeble Sookie Stackhouses and tepid Bella Swans.