Soulless by Gail Carriger
15 January, 2011
My oh my. You’re probably wondering about my erratic choices in reading material, but hey, I want to read them all and will grab my fix wherever I can take it. So although I was thinking of reading more Japanese literature (as the Japanese Literature Challenge 4 is ending this month) and Sri Lankan literature (in preparation for my trip there in a week’s time) I couldn’t help but snatch this off the library shelves. I figured I’d read this quickly and see what all the fuss is about.
And it was a very quick read. And a highly enjoyable one too. You know me and vampires. I love them. And werewolves too. I think I may love them even more. Soulless by Gail Carriger has both plus a Buffy-like figure in the character of Alexia Tarabotti, a preternatural (as opposed to supernatural) without a soul who can cancel out supernatural abilities. In Carriger’s alternate Victorian world, supernatural creatures have an over-abundance of soul. And they have been out in public since the dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII. Carriger has managed to strategically insert vampires, werewolves and ghosts into British history to give quite interesting explanations for the expansion of the Empire and Britain’s military might.
Alexia Tarabotti is half-Italian, tanned, full-bodied, a spinster and the only registered preternatural in Britain. Her mother has remarried an aristocrat after her father’s death and everyone is more or less embarrassed by Alexia who would rather read a book than pick a dress. Alexia’s power means that as soon as she touches a supernatural, they become mortal and most view her with suspicion as their powers are compromised. The vampire hives and werewolf clans are well organised and tabs are kept by the Bureau of Unnatural Registry led by one Connall Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey, the Alpha werewolf of his clan and his Beta Professor Randolph Lyall. Don’t you just love Professors in steampunk novels? And there’s an even more delicious character in the vampire Lord Akeldama, so gossipy, so fashionable and so moreish in a camp kind of way.
In this first outing of the Parasol Protectorate series, Alexia is attacked by a rove (rogue) vampire who has no idea who she is. It soon transpires that an alarming number of roves and lone werewolves (without a clan) have gone missing in the past few months. And there is a sinister figure belonging to a secret scientific organisation that is stalking Alexia, a supernatural being who is unaffected by Alexia’s touch. As she delves deeper into the mystery of the missing vampires and werewolves, Alexia also finds herself more and more drawn to Lord Maccon who finds her exasperating yet looks at her like he wants to devour her.
Soulless is a highly enjoyable steampunk romance with a lot of comic moments. I thought Carriger’s backstory and worldbuilding was interesting and also credible (in a vampire/werewolf kind of way). You can see her interest in history and the details are immaculate. What Soulless reminded me of was Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries with a combination of mystery, wit and romance, Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries but that may have been because of the sturdy parasol and the irrascible leading man and Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency novels, all of which I love. I, for one, am on my way to the library to get my next fix.
Carriger is planning 5 books in total for the Parasol Protectorate series of which three have been published so far. On her website she said she also enjoys Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Has anyone read them?