Saturday, 21 September 2013

Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

In which I subjectively and irresponsibly review books that probably deserve more serious consideration than I'm giving them. 

The novel: Soulless, first in the Parasol Protectorate series

The Author: Gail Carriger

The Cover:

The length: 357 pages

The genre: Steampunky Supernatural Romance with a very Mystery/ Detective vibe. Could also double as a Beginner's Guide to Supernatural Victorian Etiquette handbook.

The Story:

Alexia Tarabotti is a 26-year old spinster living in an alternate Victorian London where werewolves and vampires are integrated members of society. The novel starts with Alexia being attacked by a vampire at a party. Oh, no! Surely this is where the dashing Mr. Darcy-type swoops in and saves the damsel. After all, she is a helpless, unaccompanied Victorian lady, encumbered by bustles and good manners.

Uhm, nope.

Actually, she kills the vampire by herself. With her parasol. 

 Okay, technically grrrl power can't get all the credit here (but it does get a lot of it). Alexia had a secret weapon. She was born preternatural - without a soul - which means that her touch automatically neutralizes any supernatural being. So yeah, she lays a hand on the vamp and his fangs go bye-bye.

Convenient much? Hell, yeah. But although Alexia is an oddity, thankfully the novel never makes a big fuss over how "special" and "unique" she is (I'm lookin' at you, paranormal YA). Preternaturals used to hunt and kill supernaturals, so there's not much love coming her way. 

So within the first ten pages, we have our heroine in a room with a dead vampire. Enter the Romantic Interest, Lord Conall Maccon, gentleman Alpha Werewolf and the fourth Earl of Woolsey, who is of Scottish descent and who, throughout the novel, seems to teeter on the brink of messy, manly barbarism. He's a beast, y'all. Literally.

Alexia and the Earl have an antagonistic history that started, I gather, with her putting a hedgehog on a chair and him proceeding to sit on it.

Lord Maccon works for the BUR (the Bureau of Unnatural Registry), and he arrives with his second in tow, Professor Lyall, who I think is kind of a werewolf Jeeves in that he sorts the Earl's shit out and quietly understands that his boss is in love with Alexia before anyone else does. Unlike Jeeves, though, he's not very entertaining, but I'll get to that later.

There's a complicated Supernatural hierarchy in the novel, and of course lots of supernatural/ human tension, and that's pretty much what drives most of the plot. None of the vampire Hives will take responsibility for the vamp that attacked Alexia, and she gets caught up in a whole mess of unregistered vampires and disappearances and such.

I don't like using this word much, but it's basically a good ol' romp through an etiquette-ruled steampunk world. It's fun, is what I'm saying.

Favorite bits: 

  • Lord Akeldema. Think,

but with more

He's everything you could wish for in a vampire gay best friend with a harem of human lovers (or drones, as they're called in the Carrigerverse.)

  • Alexia and Lord Maccon

Can we ship it? YES WE CAN.

  • The Steampunk
It's there, but it's not too there, ya know? It's not too involved or technical. This was my first steampunk try, and I chose it specifically 'cause I read somewhere that it's a decent intro to the genre. There are dirigibles!

  • The Science
Again: dirigibles! And carriages with cranks and levers that you can make tea in.

  • The dry, etiquette-driven humor
Her characters play it straight, but Carriger doesn't:

"Mrs. Loontwill did what any well-prepared mother would do upon finding her unmarried daughter in the arms of a gentleman werewolf: she had very decorous, and extremely loud, hysterics."

  • Ivy Hisselpenny
Her only personality trait is hats. And if there's one thing I like more than character development, it's flamboyant headwear.

Least favorite bits

  • Professor Lyall narratives

Very occasionally the narrative veers off to Werewolf Jeeves for plot purposes. I understand that it's necessary, but I could not bring myself to give two shits about Lyall. You can't give us Alexia and then expect Furry-Jeeves-Sans-The-Personality to keep us entertained.

  • The Automaton
I get the feeling that he's supposed to be this hectically scary, chilling thing. Every time Alexia sees him she's terrified and repulsed. We're supposed to believe that the chick who killed a vampire with a parasol and still had time to regret that her treacle tart had been ruined balks at the prospect of an experiment that can be defeated in the end in the stupidest possible way?

  • Alexia's family
Her mother is a meaner Mrs. Bennet, her stepfather's a pussy, and her sisters are stoopid. Alexia, being the Strong And Intelligent Proto-Feminist Heroine, reads a whole lot of scientific journals and shit, and her sisters couldn't be more disparaging.

Like this, only worse, because stupid pretty girls are always portrayed less endearingly than stupid pretty boys.

The Verdict:

7 out of 10 awfully fabulous hats.

*Today's verdict is sponsored by Audrey Hepburn and the costume designers of yesteryear.


  1. sounds really good and it seems like a nice novel with a witty and great female antagonist. .so look forward to reading it:)