Monday, January 18, 2010

Review: Soulless, by Gail Carriger

The blurb on the back of Soulless reads thusly: 

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.  
Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire -- and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. 


With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Little did I know that the action really delves into this within the first chapter itself. I'm not used to this. I'm used to some setup, some sidling in of action, some world-building first, not thrown headlong into adventure. But I had no choice with Soulless! Gail Carriger makes the reader sit right next to the action, and then proceeds to drag the reader along with the actions and thoughts of utterly charming, hilarious characters.

In the world of Soulless, werewolves and vampires exist with the pre-condition of having too much soul, whilst Alexia negates any supernatural effects of theirs because she is, as the title indicates, soulless. Which is a neat turn on the question of soul + morality. There is a Bureau of Unnatural Registry, to which Lord Maccon, werewolf and Obvious Love Interest (Due To Antagonism) is attached. This is not entirely new, but the juxtaposition against "how the Americans do it" (who don't, because the Americans are superstitious and thus mistrustful of supernatural creatures) is.

Soulless doesn't fulfill my requirements for the Perfect Novel, of course. There are, for example, virtually no Characters of Colour, unless you count the main character, Alexia, who is half-Italian and thus sports a deep tan for skin colour and faces some amount of criticism for her looks as a result of the Italian heritage. The regular woman as depicted in this novel is deeply silly (and seriously! What is wrong with outrageous hats as sported by Ivy Hisselpenny?!). And just what we needed: another novel set in England /sarcasm

 Nonetheless, this is a strong book and well worth every penny. The supernatural women, such as Countess Nadasdy, are purposefully written out of stereotype, and the deliberation is clear and obvious. Lord Akeldama, written as a fashion-mad fop, self-reflexively expressing himself with italics every other word with florid phrases ("Alexia, sugarplumiest of the plums!" is top of my list), has other sides which, although it may not seem to others as giving him all that much depth, give us something other than a one-dimensional character whose sole purpose is to give Alexia information. Because the novel is limited in its scope, there's not much chance for it to go wrong, making it an easy, thoroughly enjoyable read.

Talulah Mankiller and I had a Twitter conversation in which we considered what genre Soulless falls under. In
her blurb that her agent posted, she describes it as a "paranormal novel". There are elements of mystery, it's definitely paranormal, and there are definite overtones of steampunk. I do feel that the romance gets enough of an arc for me to count this under Paranormal Romance (and let's be honest, that genre could use some steampunk awesomeness).

Gail Carriger's voice in this novel has been lauded as unique. I don't think it is, but it is definitely flippant, off-handed, and thus, works excellently for the type of novel it is - a very self-conscious, purposefully out-to-have-fun sort of story. There were a few turns of phrases which I thought were out of place ("Gee" as an exclamation has and will never sound British to me) but the vocabulary never ventures into the overly obnoxious, overly-loaded language that some steampunks think is necessary for proper conversation.

Well worth the five hours I dedicated to reading it. And the several uncountable more hours I spent re-reading my favourite parts. Go on, pick it up.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this review! I'm bookmarking it to read when I'm done with the book - it's close to the top of my TBR.

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  2. You're welcome! Thanks for dropping in!

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