Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Posted by Simcha 7:05 PM, under | 6 comments

Alexia Tarabotti is a 26 year old spinster with a featherbrained mother, a dead Italian father and no soul. When Alexia finds herself attending yet another tiresome ball, she retires to the library to enjoy some refreshments, only to be rudely attacked by a vampire. Luckily for Alexia, her lack of soul neutralizes the vampire, vanishing his fangs and giving her the opportunity to eliminate her foe with a wooden hatpin.

Unfortunately, the perennially disapproving Lord Maccon arrives on the scene ( he’s never forgiven her for the hedgehog incident), and Alexia has some explaining to do. Who was the poorly behaved and badly dressed vampire? Where did he come from and what caused him to attack Alexia? And it’s not only the werewolves who need some answers, because the vampire queen soon requests an audience from Alexia as well.

As Alexia attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding her attack at the ball, she repeatedly finds herself coming head-to-head with Lord Maccon, not an entirely unpleasant experience. And the Earl suddenly can’t seem to stop himself from thinking about the irritating and headstrong Ms. Tarabotti, who always seems to be in the center of every commotion. It doesn’t help that Lord Maccon’s protective instincts have been particularly strong lately as it becomes apparent that someone is trying to kidnap Alexi, but Alexi herself refuses to be protected.

I had recently decided that I've had enough of vampire and werewolf themed books, most of which seem to just recycle the same ideas as every other previously published book in the genre. I didn’t have much expectations for Soulless and ended up pleasantly surprised with how much I actually enjoyed this book.

To begin with, the book takes place in Victorian London and is told in a style similar to that of a historical romance, which immediately grabbed my interest (historical romances are my secret and guilty pleasure). And then the ideas that Carriger introduces, of the soul and it’s influence on ones ability to become paranormal, are unique and intriguing. As someone who does not possess a soul, Alexia is able to neutralize any paranormal creature, turning them into a regular human for the amount of time that she in physical contact with them. I thought this was a really interesting concept.

In addition, Carriger assumes that had vampires been in existence in Victorian times, then the technology would have been much more advanced. And so Soulless includes inventions such as steam powered airships and floating carriages, lending the book some exotic steampunk flavor.

There were also some really wonderful characters here. I loved Alexia; a strong and intelligent woman who is not afraid of being herself, which is often reflected by her opinionated ideas, healthy appetite and bravery in defending herself against adversaries with her trusty parasol. Alexia’s friend Ivy is another great character, with her penchant for wearing ridiculous hats and her understanding with Alexi to agree to disagree. Their humorous banter was particularly enjoyable.

    “Ivy, my dear,” said Miss Tarabotti as her friend bustled up, “how marvelous of you to find time to walk at such short notice! What a hideous bonnet. I do hope you did not pay too much for it.”

    “Alexia! How perfectly horrid of you to criticize my hat. Why should I not be able to walk this morning? You know I never have anything better to do on Thursdays. Thursdays are so tiresome, don't you find?” replied Miss Hisselpenny."

Unfortunately I thought that Lord Maccon’s character seemed a little flat and generic, lacking the depth and originality of the other characters. I was also a little confused as to what exactly the soul is, in Soulless. Is the soul just a measure of a person’s ability to become immortal or is it more similar to a soul, as we understand it? For someone without a soul, an ailment that sounds rather shocking, Alexia appeared to be no different then other humans, aside from her unusual boldness. This lack of a clear explanation bothered me.

And one final criticism that I had is that some of the more “adult” scenes between Alexia and Lord Maccon seemed to take place at strangely inappropriate times which made them rather unbelievable. I can’t say more without giving away too much of the plot but while reading one such scene I was thinking to myself in irritation “come on, is that really what you are thinking about at a time like this?”

Otherwise I thoroughly enjoyed Soulless as a delightful, lighthearted read and I highly recommend it to readers of both fantasy and romance who are looking for some bookish fun.

For some Soulless fun, visit Gail Carriger's website where she talks about her books and about different aspects of steampunk, of which she seems to have a particular interest.

And at the publisher's website for Soulless you can dress up a Victorian doll in period clothing, which is actually quite challenging. It's amazine how many layers they had to wear back then.


I keep seeing mixed reviews on this one. I love the cover and will probably read the book eventually but I'm not in a big hurry to get it.

This sounds like a fun read. I have seen the book around but haven't really heard to much about it. Thanks for the review. You really gave me some great insight into the books, both with the characters and the plot. Sounds like a fun read but I have quite a few other books here to read. I will have to keep this one in mind though. Thanks!

I've got to push this book up on my tbr list. . .I'm not over vampire/werewolf books at all (as I really haven't been reading that many of them), so if you are and loved it anyway, I think I'm going to ADORE it!

I think you just have to have the right expectations when reading Soulless. If you are expecting a serious fantasy or steampunk novel then you will likely be disappointed. It's a fun, lighthearted book that is well written and reads like a historical romance. And if you have read a lot of the other vampire books out now then you will probably appreciate the novel concepts that this author has come up with.

This is one I wish I could have liked better. Despite the good qualities, the romance was just such a trial for me! I have been reassured by the author, however, that I may like future books more, because the romance is already established so the focus will move somewhere else. Therefore, I may give the next one a try...

@ TJ: That's interesting that you say that because the strong focus on romance in Soulless (meaning the 3 or so adult scenes, which are requisite for every romance novel) places the book firmly in the romance genre and I think that if the author cuts those out in the next book, many of the reader who enjoyed Soulless will probably be disappointed with the sequel since they would be expecting a romance. And those who did not like Soulless for that very reason, are unlikely anyways to follow up with the sequel, unless they already know, as you do, that it will not be a romance. Sounds risky for the author. But I'm certainly willing to give it a try.

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