New Releases: Blameless by Gail Carriger

Gail Carriger BlamelessThis review is dedicated to Jared, who brought me a brownie.

I know I'm in the minority with this opinion, but I tend to find Relentlessly Light-Hearted Whimsey exhausting in books.

It took me several tries to get through the Hitchhiker's Guide series (and I never finished any of Adams' other novels), and I have to titrate my PG Wodehouse carefully, often going months or even years between Jeeves or Psmith novels.

In no way am I anti-whimsey.  It's just that it can be a bit much, page after page, novel after novel.  

And therein lies the promise - and the peril - of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. 

On the one hand, Carriger's novels are funny.  I giggled my way through Blameless, just as I giggled my way through Soulless and Changeless.  And, in a bunch of  sub-genres rife with high seriousness (steampunk, paranormal romance, urban fantasy, etc.), the funny is a welcome thing.  His sense of mischief, for example, is one of the many reasons Joe Abercrombie's novels read so well.  And China Miéville's novels have benefitted from the dark humor he's begun to inject into them.  Carriger's light touch is charming.

On the other hand: it's also constant. The charm is never forced, but it is endless.  Like, eeeeeeendless.  Everyone has an adorable name.  Everyone speaks in bon mots.  Everyone is obsessed with tea, or hats, or fashion, or some combination of the three.

Although I find this style of writing pretty tiresome, I do appreciate it.  And I realize that loads of readers quite like it.  I'm certainly not dinging the novel for being funny or cute (though it does get a little precious at times).  Writing style is a matter of personal preference, and Carriger's simply isn't quite mine.

Style aside, Blameless suffers from many fewer of the problems that infected Changeless. Whereas in Changeless the heroine, Alexia, was a passive lump, she shows great initiative in Blameless, working hard to sort out her problems. She's also far less thick than she was in the previous book. Unfortunately, her thickness seems to have infected a few of the other characters - who then sort of unthicken as the plot requires, which is frustrating.  

That unthickening, and the fact that there are simply too many characters to keep straight, are my major complaints with the novel.  Okay, one more: Carriger is falling prey to the stereotypical steampunk infection: steampunking for the sake of steampunking. The s'punked-up (heh) parasol is sort of a necessary evil, but stuff like the crawling tram cars and the glass-and-steel egg-shaped-prison-under-the-Thames thingie are, you know, a bit much.

The best thing about Blameless, and about the entire series, is Carriger's acceptance of the full spectrum of human sexuality.  Carriger's world isn't even nominally heteronormative, despite the hetero central relationship; several main characters are bisexual or gay, and their relationships are presented with the same pathos and casual ease with which she describes heterosexual human (and human-werewolf) relationships.  

There's only one really unexpected moment in Blameless, but that said (and my other reservations aside) it's a fun read, and Carriger's example will hopefully inspire other writers to add in a little more of the funny, and other publishers to move away from the super-duper intense style that so often characterizes genre fiction.