I've been reflecting a lot on the title of this book as I read it, because not only does it describe the central plot, but it's also a metaphor for something I think is dissatisfying about this series -- the characters are changeless. They move around in the plot, but none of them are changed by or grow from their experiences (with the possible and surprising exception of Ivy who takes a tremendous risk in the end), and that's one thing that holds these books back from being something more than just fun fluff. They are fun and fluffy, and there's nothing wrong with that, but I feel there's some degree of wasted potential here. Carriger has a wonderful, vivid imagination and her vision of an alternate steampunk Britain where werewolves, vampires and ghosts are commonplace mostly is delightful.
The writing suffers from some basic craft problems, such as the phonetic spelling of dialogue. I rolled my eyes every time a character with a supposed French accent said "ze" instead of "the" for example. This was compounded by the utterly cliched way she wrote dialogue for the Scottish characters. Good dialogue should give the reader the flavor of an accent or dialect without beating them over the head with it, but Carriger beats us over the head like Alexia wielding her parasol.
The book also suffered from the absence of Lord Maccon for a good chunk of it. Alexia is priggish and pretty insufferable, but she becomes immensely more tolerable -- likable even -- when trading barbs with her husband. The two crackle on the page when together (although I could do without Lord Maccon trying to have sex with Alexia every minute of every day), but I just kind of want to smack Alexia when she's on her own, particularly her constant derision of her so-called best friend Ivy. Ivy wears the wrong thing, loves the wrong person. Alexia does nothing but find fault with Ivy. It makes me wonder why the two are friends at all. It doesn't help that Ivy is painted with exactly one brushstroke as a character -- her fashion choices. I consider this another failing of craft in the work, as a number of characters seem to suffer from this. Carriger seems to have seized on the old chestnut of giving characters a unique attribute to set them apart but doesn't seem to understand that whatever that attribute is can't stand alone but rather should add dimension. So we get characters who are defined entirely by what they wear and not by much else. I have a glimmer of hope for Ivy in her choice to follow her heart and marry Tunstell despite the likelihood that it will ruin her socially. I hope this is the first step toward her becoming her own person and not just a wearer of bad hats.
I will say that the head-hopping was much less distracting in this book than in Soulless.
Despite my criticisms, I had a fun time reading. Carriger is
an imaginative writer who can spin a good yarn, and I likely will pick up the next book to see what happens next in this rather entertaining alternate version of Victorian London.