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Soulless by Gail Carriger

November 3, 2010

Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date: October 1, 2009

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Status: First in the Parasol Protectorate Series. There are three books in the series so far: Soulless, Changeless and Blameless. Books four and five will be called Heartless and Timeless, respectively. Heartless is due out July 1, 2011. There is no release date for Timeless, but the author’s website states that it will be the last in the series. There is also an unpublished short story about Alexia’s father.

Source: Purchased by self

Genre: Steampunk

Other Info: Soulless has made the the rounds on most of the book sites and blogs I’ve surfed over the last year. It was one of those novels I picked up because the cover intrigued me. I read a few pages but wasn’t enamored of the tone, so I didn’t purchase it. I thought that it was a perfect choice for New (Old) Series Week.

Description: (From Amazon):

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?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

Soulless is that rare entity, the book that should have drawn me like a dust to my bookshelf, but didn’t. It fit many of my criteria: It takes place in Victorian London, it’s Steampunk, there are werewolves, and there are noblemen. Cha-ching! Unfortunately, though I saw Soulless in the bookstore back in the day (you know, when it was new), the first couple of pages put me off rather than sucked me in. Now that I’ve read it, I think I’m a little more clear about why that was.

I am a self-professed fan of the first person point of view. Third person limited is a close runner-up. I’m not crazy about third person omniscient, but it’s better than second person. I’ve only ever run across one or two examples of workable second-person narrative. The Dress Lodger anyone? Soulless is written in third person omniscient, and the p.o.v. switches perspectives at least once every page. I like a little mystery in my narrative and knowing what everyone is thinking all the time tends to spoil that for me. Still, it’s a stylistic choice that Carriger makes and it is often successful. It aids in the formal, Victorian air she’s trying to give her books. Furthermore, it reflects Alexia’s personality. The narrative is straightforward, direct and often amusing. It deals in facts. Yet, I was put off by the frequent references to “Miss Tarabotti.” It made it difficult for me to relate to the heroine. That, along Alexia’s prosaic, practical nature made her a difficult character to connect to. Even at the end of the book, I felt that though Alexia was likable, she was a character on the other side of a screen.

The main thing that bothered me about this book, though, was the relentless “Britishness.” Some of it I liked. And some of it was successful. I’m a total anglophile, so I can’t be too judgy on this point. But on occasion, it was overdone. Also, on her website, Carriger states that the language in Soulless is Victorian in tone. Thing is, it reminds me more of Jane Austen (Regency) than Elizabeth Gaskell (Victorian). Much of the slang that is used in the book is slang I ran across during my Regency phase. I don’t know, exactly, how Victorian language was different from Regency–but I assume it must have been a little different. Another niggly point I have was that the hero was the Earl of Woolsey but referred to as Lord Conall Maccon or Lord Maccon. I don’t consider myself an expert on British nobility, but it’s my understanding (Regency phase, remember?) that the Earl of Woolsey would be referred to as Lord Woolsey and not Lord Maccon. This mistake wouldn’t bother me so much if both the publisher and the author didn’t make such an effort to highlight Carriger’s British antecedents and current tendencies.

Having gotten my issues out in the open, I should tell you that I did like this book. I even marked a couple of passages that I thought were funny:

p. 118-119

Mrs. Loontwill and the young Lady-twills were out shopping, but they were due back at any moment.

p. 245

“And, now, where is my precious baby?” she heard the shadowed man ask as they departed. “Ah, there he is! And how did he behave on this outing? Good? Of course he did, my darling.” Then his words degenerated into Latin.

p. 254

“Promise?” said the vampire, hanging limply upside down.

Hee. I love that last image. It is, of course, Lord Akeldama. If you’ve read the book, you know why that little fact makes the image even more amusing.

I also liked the world-building, though it was at times a bit confusing. Like, Carriger mentions that vampires and werewolves have been allowed freedom of movement since the mandate signed by King Henry. But which King Henry? There were quite a few of them, some of whom were successive.

Okay, sorry, got distracted by a niggle again. Okay, world-building: Carriger has a different enough spin on the supernatural to make it plenty interesting. There’s a wealth of detail that that makes for great reading. The plot is also entertaining, though I admit that I guessed what was going on. Also, the romance that develops between Alexia and Lord Maccon is amusing and delicious. They were made for each other.

In all, though I enjoyed reading Soulless, it didn’t appeal to me all that much. There was plenty to like, but I prefer a meatier novel, something that hits me more viscerally than the consistent, light-hearted humor that pervaded in Soulless. Still, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series has quite a following and that means she’s doing plenty right.

See you guys tomorrow. Don’t forget to enter the Matched Giveaway Contest if you haven’t already.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. gothchick414 permalink
    November 4, 2010 7:33 pm

    :: adds this novel to my “Should Read” list ::

    I was unsure about this one the first time I looked over it. I hadn’t heard anything about it before, so I’ve been waiting for someone else to review it before I officially decided to add it to my list, or nix it from my list completely. Thanks for helping me decide!

    • November 4, 2010 7:43 pm

      Sure, no problem. If I might ask, though, what was it that tipped the scale for you?

      • gothchick414 permalink
        November 4, 2010 9:11 pm

        Well for starters, you related the language style to Jane Austin – she is one of my favorite authors and a book reminds one of her work, then it becomes one that I eventually must read.

        Second, your last favorite quote intrigues me. I really must read to find the context that brought that quote into existence. Something about it is calling to me, and as much as I hate to deviate from my plans for the month (with NaNoWriMo occuring an all) I might just be bugged by that one line enough to pick up the book before the end of the month.

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