Published by: Orbit
Recommended by: Sarah (Escaping through Books)
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Soulless by Gail Carriger
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? Or 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.
1. (+) Alexia, the protagonist - Alexia may make my all-time-favorite heroines list. Brash, independent, funny, spirited, assertive, self-confident yet not without insecurities (Italian background in Victorian England, soullessness, etc.), aware of fashion (Ivy's hideous hats, etc.) and propriety, intelligent, practical, witty, loyal to those she loves, determined, curious, enthusiastic about intellectual pursuits, able to hold her own. She's the kind of person you never want to debate with because she'll twist your words and the conversation; she'll always win.
2. (+) World-building - This one is a definite genre mash-up. It's got the steampunk element with vague mentions and sometimes thorough introductions to various metal machines, gadgets, and scientific research of the nineteenth century (miasmas, etc.) It's got the Victorian element with emphasis on propriety, the mannerisms, the fashion, the gossip, the social strata, etc.. It's got the paranormal element with vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and preternaturals like Alexia and how each is governed among its own sect. It's got alternate history full of supernatural meddling in human affairs. I loved the world, and I thought there was just enough introduced in this novel to convince me that there's a lot more left to be explored in the next books. My only complaint would be Alexia's soullessness. I liked it and didn't like it. A part of me wanted more substance on what it meant to be soulless (a lack of creativity? bad fashion? negating other sups?), while another part recognized that the novel seemed to be commercially driven and had a mythology of its own that was less about symbolism or discussion and more about fun times and humor.
3. (+) Romance - The romance almost reads as insta-love, were it not for the hints of backstory between Lord Maccon and Alexia. That and the familiar way they act towards each other. The steamier scenes between them sometimes didn't read as steamy because of the humor--but don't let any of that discourage you! The back story was great, always providing extra humor and a layer of extra tension to their banter and interactions, and in general the romance was delightful to read; a match of wits between two alpha, very take-charge, intense people who can stand on their own but fight better together.
4. (+) Dry Humor - On the bookseller page, the short description for this novel is: Buffy meets Jane Austen. I haven't watched much Buffy, but I was definitely reminded of Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling's dry wit--like when she wrote that Mrs. Dursely had twice as much neck as usual which helped when she spied on neighbors, etc. It seemed very British and appropriate for the time period, although I admit that sometimes I thought that the humor made some of the mystery elements and danger not feel as poignant. The humor, though, in addition to Alexia's voice, is what made the novel so enjoyable.
5. (+) Character cast - This book has a moderately sized character cast for an adult novel, but each of them was really well developed partly due to the omniscient POV that sometimes allowed for a glimpse in each character's head. Each character also has very defining characteristics (again, think JKR and the large neck of Petunia Dursely). There was one random introduction to a character that didn't seem quite right but other than that? Wonderful, wonderful side cast.
6. (+/-) Plot - In developing all these different elements and keeping an Austen-esque feel, the novel sometimes seemed to lack forward momentum. Things were still happening but between the humor and the romance and the friendship, the book didn't quite feel as action or plot oriented as I'd expect of a standalone series type. The mystery was supposed to drive the novel forward, but sometimes I found myself wishing that another element would get greater focus. There didn't seem to be enough players in the story for the necessary hooks to keep the mystery going, if that make sense. It was still enjoyable though.
7. (+) Standalone/ending/etc. - I can't tell you how pleased I was after finishing this novel. The fact that it's a standalone and didn't feature another open ending designed solely to hook readers back into the story was enjoyable. Plot threads were neatly wrapped up while others were introduced towards the end so we'd know what to expect in the sequel.
8. (+) Writing - This novel broke one of the major general rules of writing and featured a lot of telling about various characters--but here's the telling: it totally worked and fit in the dry wit and voice, and the novel did end up showing you how that information factored into the characters' actions. This novel also features an omniscient third person POV, switching POVs at random moments (for a paragraph or two), but again I thought those were well done and provided great (sometimes funny) back story for a variety of characters.
9. (+) Pacing - Some will find it slow, but if you've read a Jane Austen novel, this is similar to the pacing in her novels. It worked well with the dry wit and general feel of the novel.
10. (+/-) The Cover - White-washing alert! Alexia is supposed to be tan and ample and has a large nose. That is not the woman on the cover. At least they covered the parasol and steampunk and Victorian aspects of the novel.
I have a peculiar fascination with novels set in nineteenth century London. It's not the fashion, but the heroines who come of that time which interest me. Many novels (or at least the ones I read) set then feature heroines who are head-strong, wily, courageous--the sort that obviously have to deal with prejudices and gender inequalities on a macro scale yet remained spirited and determined. Alexia is one of those heroines, and I loved her voice and character so much that even if I didn't like the other aspects of the novel, I'd still buy the sequel. If any of that resonates with you, you'll definitely like this novel.
Full of dry wit and well developed characters, Soulless is a delightful mash of paranormal, steampunk, Victorian, and romantic elements sure to cross-appeal to those genre fans looking for an entertaining read.
As always, feel free to send in more recommendations!
Up next: Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi.
(PS - if you've chosen to leave Goodreads, where are you linking to and getting your synopses from?)