Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless is the first book in the new Parasol Protectorate series, and is Gail Carriger’s debut novel. I’ve had this release on my ‘to-buy’ list for months. The Victorian Era is very big right now, and I’m extremely interested to see what authors are doing with it. I wasn’t at all disappointed with the unique twists in this one. Soulless by Gail Carriger

I found my copy of Soulless at my local Borders store nearly two weeks before the official release date. I, of course, took a picture to share on Twitter. Authors are, understandably, thrilled to see their work “out in the wild”. Ms. Carriger said that it was her first report of Soulless on the shelf. That was a pretty awesome thing to be a part of.

To be completely honest, though, I should have disliked this book. The main character is a prim and proper lady with a taste for tea, a keen Victorian fashion sense, and an insistence on correct etiquette.  I hate tea, could care less about fashion, and the niceties of polite society have always been beyond me. Worse, there is a strong romantic element to the story – something I avoid wherever possible. (Note: No, I don’t hate romance. I just prefer if the focus of the story is on the action rather than on the relationship. I also don’t buy into sappy ‘Happily Ever After’ endings.)

So I should have hated this book. Instead, I grew rather fond of it. Our heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is a spunky woman who has managed to become educated, out-spoken, and self-sufficient in an era when women were expected to be anything but. She’s intelligent, having read through her dead father’s library, and prepared to do whatever it takes to overcome her “shortcomings”. These shortcomings being that she’s a spinster (having been put on the shelf by her mother years before at the age of 15) who is half-Italian and who was born without a soul.

In Alexia’s world, supernaturals such as vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are created from a person with an excess of soul. Since most things have an equal opposite, there are also very rare individuals who have no soul at all. Alexia is one of these preternaturals, rarer for being a woman – and the only one in England.

Our hero, and love interest, is the Lord Conall Maccon, the fourth Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of the local werewolf pack. Lord Maccon is a transplant from Scotland and nearly as exotic as our half-Italian heroine. The pair seem to have sort of a love-hate relationship, as she lives to infuriate him and he can’t seem to not rise to her bait. This plot line alone would be tedious. The two of them are obviously attracted to each other and simply, stubbornly, refuse to admit it.

Luckily for us that we also have unregistered vampires mysteriously appearing in London, while the typical registered vamps start to turn up missing. Alexia, not one to keep her long nose out of any mystery for long, begins her own investigation, is nearly killed several times, then kidnapped, and finally manages to discover the bad guys.

Some people who don’t know any better might take issue with the fact that Alexia mentions both her spinsterhood and her half-Italian (and thus too dark for Victorian London) complexion repeatedly throughout the novel. I, however, think that the attitude was spot on. My own countenance is ghostly, but I married a man of a darker persuasion and I know this for a fact: if your color is such that you may be persecuted for it by society, it remains something very much in the forefront of the mind. Spinsterhood, being a very similar condition in that day and age, logically follows as a reality that one isn’t likely to forget.

Soulless is a head-whirling blend of paranormal romance, steampunk, urban fantasy, mystery and adventure. It’s not a vampire story. Or a werewolf story. Or a love story. It’s not a scientific adventure or a murder mystery. It is all these things – while gently poking fun at all of them – and I firmly believe that without all of these elements the story would not work.

What Soulless is, is a fun little bit of fluff – the cotton candy of new releases. It has no nutritional value and if you think too hard about it you’ll just realize it’s probably bad for you. But it’s so sweet and so entertaining that you won’t want to give it up. I received a rather indecent amount of pleasure out of reading about Miss Alexia Tarabotti’s adventures, not despite everything that should have annoyed me about the story but instead because of it. All of the details of the world are what make the story so enchanting.

I’m not sure how Ms. Carriger managed it all, really. I’m impressed, and envious, of her skill. I eagerly look forward to the release of Changeless in April of 2010.

For more information on Soulless and its world, check out the very elegant and extensive website of the author at http://gailcarriger.com/.You can also try out the fun Soulless Victorian fashion paper doll!

[xrr rating=4.25/5 imageset=tiny_star]

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