Monday, September 23, 2013

Christina Read: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Release Date: October 1, 2009
Published by: Orbit
Recommended by: Sarah (Escaping through Books)

Christina Reads Your Recommendations is a regular Monday feature here (inspired by A Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins Sunday) in which you, my readers, get to choose what book I will read and review next. Got a book that you love and want everyone to read and review? That you're not sure what to think of and want a second opinion on? That you think I'll love or that I should have already read? Send in your recommendations via this form!

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.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

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?)

31 comments:

  1. I really enjoy Victorian novels, too. Have you read Incarnation by Emma Cornwall? It's a Victorian London/steampunk vampire novel. I'm trying to remember if I still have my copy. If I do, I'd be happy to send it to you.

    I'm glad to hear Soulless is standalone. I've been trying to avoid series books that fail to give a complete story.

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  2. I'm definitely planning on reading this and the rest of the Parasol Protectorate since I read Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger and it's set in the same world. I do like the sound of the main character though I was definitely wondering what it meant to be soulless and judging from your review, there's not much about it so that's a little disappointing.


    I am loving how British this sounds, will be great to be a little nostalgic about JKR's writing style haha.

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  3. Italian background in Victorian England? I would loooooveee that! I'm terrible at debating so I think I'd avoid the MC at all cost whenever I was to smell some debating;) JK and Austen's dry humor is the best! haha. I'm glad this novel held some of it:) I love the sound of the romance and even if it was an insta-love, sometimes it works. Mostly it's just irritating though. Oh, it's a standalone? YAY! I am beyond irritated about how most of the books become a series or demand the same story from a different POV etc. Some stories just need to be standalones and that's. just. IT!!!! Okay.. I read the ending of your plot thoughts and what? It is a series then? :D LOL. Perhaps I just can't read between the lines. I'm glad you liked it so much though:) AND EEEK!!! YOU'RE READING THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT?! Woot woot! I still haven't read that one. I guess I'll just have to wait until it comes out of that mystery box full of paper slips;) Heh. I did pre-order Into the Still Blue though which is under 11€ for the usual 11+€ on TBD right now. I guess that makes it cheaper in $-s as well according to my logic which has been very off lately lol. Can't wait to read them:) AND WHAT'S MORE??!! CAN'T WAIT FOR YOUR REVIEW!!!

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  4. YES, you finally read it! :D After your last comment on my review I was really looking forward to your thoughts.


    I agree about Alexia. I absolutely love her and all the aspects of her personality you just listed. Her wittiness is something I wish I had! The mash-up in the world-building is great. I really like the blend of different things and how it all comes together. Alexia's soullesness will get more background in book 3 :) There is an explanation about paranormals and preternaturals and I really liked it.


    What I really like about the romance is the dynamic between Lord Maccon and Alexia. They are a perfect match for each other and they are one of the best duo's. The whole I-hate-you-but-I-love-you in the beginning made me smile :D


    And yes, the humor! This is exactly the type of humor that makes me laugh, especially in combination with Alexia. I also like the cast, Lord Akeldama, haha.


    This series gets extra credits for the endings. I absolutely HATE cliff-hangers, so I'm happy how every story is wrapped up, but leaves some space for another story.

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  5. I have this book in my TBR pile for ages!!! Now I read your review and I want to go read it, like, NOW!! But I can't, otherwise I won't finish the ones I'm currently reading. *sigh* Now, let me think about a rec to add to the form. ;) (this feature is pretty cool!!)

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  6. I have not! I would love to read it if I had time, but I recently had to send another title off just because I'm terrible at keeping up with reading, blogging, commenting, life, work, etc. For instance, your blog is still in my browser for commenting o.O and I hope hope hope to get to it by tonight... but who knows? Thank you so much for the offer though!

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  7. I want to read E&E - I actually bought the rest of the series right after this post went up :D. I am eager to see how everything else goes. What it means to be soulless - it's very humorous. It's her being practical but also being outsider; her reading Greek philosophy yet not commenting on how she's somehow able to love and feel things (despite not having a soul?); her having little fashion taste and creativity.


    But yeah, it is SO British and is such a treat. :) It definitely made nostalgic just thinking of HP & JKR and the dry humor.

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  8. Haha, I'm definitely terrible at debating too. I generally tend to keep quiet. This MC would shred me to pieces if I got into an argument with her. The romance wasn't too insta-love-y - just that I was slightly surprised they fell in love given the short time period, but it made sense with all the hints of back story between them :).


    Lol it's a standalone in a series, if that makes sense. Plot threads wrap up in this so that it can be read, and you could be done with the series. Think of continuing series with the same character but a different problem each time around - like Sherlock Holmes.


    Hahaha. I, too, for some odd reason, have pre-ordered Into the Still Blue even though I still haven't read Through the Ever Night. But we shall see. I hope to love the book. SIIRI THOUGH WHY ARE YOU WAITING ON READING ALL THE AWESOME BOOKS (mystery box full of paper slips? I iz confuzzled).

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  9. YES. And I bought the entire series pack after I finished. I started in on book 2, and I am a fan of the Alexia/Maccon dynamic, though I really wish he'd stop keeping secrets from her... harrumph.


    SHE IS SO WITTY. I wish I had that too - then maybe I'd win an argument or two ;). Oooh, more background in book 3? SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN. Though, since the kindle book is the entire series, it will be awhile until I get ~60% of the way through ;).


    YES. Hahah, I should have added that they had that dynamic. The whole (pretend) ignorance of their attraction but everyone else can see it and is waiting for it to finally happen.


    YES YES YES to what you said about the endings. So much love that... and itching to go read some more, if it were not for the face that I am so behind on blog commenting - yours being one of the ones I need to get to and has been sitting in my browser since the weekend. *sigh*

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  10. YOU SHOULD READ IT, PAT!!! *flails* We're always currently reading something - you've got to tackle the TBR too ;). Also, I am looking forward to the Juliet Marillier book - thank you for recommending it!

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  11. Haha, no worries. Enjoy the book and let me know what you think ;)! Those comments can wait *not to mention that I'm also very very behind on commenting*

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  12. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)September 24, 2013 at 5:35 AM

    Thank you so much for reading and reviewing this book based on my "recommendation," despite the fact that I haven't read it yet! It sounds exactly like the type of book I would like. Dry humor is my THING, and I'm so glad to hear that the narrator had a great voice. I'm also intrigued by the romance (I love that you have Romance as a separate category, btw, as it's always the first thing I look at in a review!)


    I'm also happy to hear that this book can be read as a standalone. More series authors should take a note---we want complete story arcs in our books, not just a "To Be Continued" or "End of Volume I" wherein the book ends on a cliffhanger with no resolution.


    I will definitely be moving this one up in my own TBR pile and reading it this fall. I want to read this series before starting her YA Finishing School series (though I heard it's not necessary to read this one first). Thank you again for reviewing this book!

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  13. I love this series! It's actually the only steampunk book(s) I've read that I've really enjoyed... steampunk and I have a difficult relationship. I do hope you continue reading these. Book 2 I think was my least favorite, or maybe book 3... not sure, but it's wrapped up perfectly. Great review!

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  14. I don't know if I've heard of this one before, but you had me at Buffy meets Jane Austen. A great heroine, dry humor, and a romance that includes a match of wits. I definitely need to check this one out. Great review! ~Pam

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  15. Okay, I give it lots of points for adding humor in the midst of steaminess. That sounds great :) I like that they have a backstory as well since I hate instalove. Man, this all sounds great and now I can't wait to read it. My big thing is everything you mentioned about the humor! Love the review!

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  16. please, Mel. I can picture your being behind on commenting = still commenting like 3x as much as I do :P.


    yesss can't wait to continue when i'm more awake!

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  17. Thank you for recommending it :P. Hahaha, yes, I am a romance addict. No way I am not going to give it its own category. And yay! I'm glad the humor is up your alley too.


    YES YES. I want more series like this too. This seems to be a problem in a lot of the more epic fantasy, paranormal, etc. types, but the Graceling Realm series, this series - it's so nice to pick up any book and be okay regardless.


    Yes!! I am hoping to read her YA series too, and I've heard the same about not needing to read this first. Let me know when you do read the book in the fall - would love to discuss again :)

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  18. Steampunk is hard to get along with. Sometimes some of it just seems ridiculous or out of place. And a part of me rebels to the fact that the genre seems predicated on one time period, but I don't know that I've read enough to really hate it or anything. This is the only one you've enjoyed? Interesting--I wonder if the other elements helped balance out? Errr, not good that book 2 was your least fave :P or 3 since I'll have to get through 'em in limited time...

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  19. haha, yes, isn't that one of the best taglines? I hope you enjoy Soulless if you pick it up :). Also, I am terribly behind in commenting back and I just wanted to say that your blog has been opened in my browser for a while, Pam, and I promise that I'll get to it soon!

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  20. I hate insta!love too - this book is a great example of character economy. They didn't have that many romantic build-relationship scenes, but the author made it work with all the hints about how everyone but the two of them -- even from that first chapter -- was just waiting for it to happen. Yay, Sunny! I hope you get to read this soon - it's awesome :).

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  21. I read this book a couple of years ago, and I have the second book in the series, Changeless, sitting right here on my bookshelf, so it's good to read your review because it reminded me of what I liked it about Soulless in the first place. I think the wit and humor is my favorite aspect of the book. And I do love steampunk, alternate realities and such. I think that all these genre mash-ups are so cool! And I do want to read the Etiquette & Espionage series as well.


    Since you like 19th century/ Victorian-ish have you read The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason? It just released a couple of weeks ago and feature the niece of Sherlock Holmes and the sister of Bram Stoker as protagonists. It was a pretty fun read and has those fabulous feisty heroines you said you liked! You should check it out:)

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  22. I've been staring at this one in the library for YEARS and never picked it up! I recently read her YA foray, Etiquette & Espionage which I really enjoyed! I found though, like you mentioned, that sometimes the humour played down the more serious parts of the book. It definitely did not take itself too seriously. I may have to finally check this one out :)

    Cait x

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  23. Lauren, Love is not a triangleSeptember 25, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    This review made me smile, because I read this book ages ago and you reminded me how very fun it is! Like you, I loved Alexia and all the British humor as well as the Victorian/Steampunk feel to the story. Your assessment of the romance - the steamy bits being snarky too - is so true. But you're right, it works in this context. I think my major problem had to do with the "lack of forward momentum" as you described the plot. As much as I love a good Jane Austen - and many other 19th century Brit classics - I had some trouble with it in this context. I've also not felt a huge desire to pick up the rest of the series. And I'm not sure if those details are connected. For that reason, I'm glad it wasn't a cliffy. I'm also curious if you end up reading more!

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  24. Definitely! In a sense the wit and humor of this book reminded me of how Paranormalcy and Hex Hall also stand out in the YA PNR crowd because they were among the first to start having lighter tones and more humor. This stood out because of its mash of genres and humor. Me too! The E&E series was also really well received by critics, and I always find that to be a good sign.


    Nope, haven't read! AHHH Heather, you always give me the best recommendations o.O. I still need to read Unsticky and I bet this one is good too and agh agh agh. I'm so behind on returning blog comments/visiting blogs right now o.O and the thought of getting another book is impossible but I am going to keep your rec in mind! I love heroines like that :).

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  25. Yes - if I had one nitpick about this book, it'd be that the humor sometimes muted the emotional resonance of other moments. If you enjoyed E&E, you should definitely pick this one up! You like a bit of romance, right? I think I'd read that E&E didn't have much, so you'd get to have that in here plus the elements you liked from before :).

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  26. "As much as I love a good Jane Austen - and many other 19th century Brit classics - I had some trouble with it in this context." <-- Yes! I completely agree. I think it comes off as having... too much? I'm not quite sure how to phrase it. Hmmm, maybe - sounds like this one was a decent read, but not altogether impressive for you? As for me, I liked it and liked the characters enough that I bought the boxed set. Started to read in the second book, but reprimanded myself since I'm so behind on comments and emails and work and life o.O.

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  27. Well, I did buy the rest of the series after reading this - does that count ;)?


    #1: We need a name for this trend. YES to her eating. YES to someone who's confident enough about that and okay with being prickly.


    #2: I know, right? If you get one of those parasols, I fully expect you to send me one too ;). The carriage thing in the first book (or was it a ship? Can't remember anymore) was also pretty cool. And yeah, I heard you learn about the nature of her soullessness in the third book.


    #8: Ha, you quoted from my typo (here's the telling vs. thing), but yes. hahhaa, I know, right? I usually hate that exposition or a lot of telling, but I guess it goes on a case by case basis :).


    #10: I KNOW. I SAW THE REST AND IT MAKES NO SENSE BARGHHH. They had such colorful dresses too!

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  28. YES YES YES. This series is my favorite steampunk series. I was hoping it would be all +'s, but mostly + is still a high recommendation from you!

    #1. Again, we are twins about protagonists. I love Alexia. I love that she loves food and that she eats. I love how prickly she is.

    #2. Definitely a mashup of genres, but for me, the steampunk is what really excels. I do love the ingenuity about vampires (the hives, drones, etc.) but the steampunkery is by far my favorite aspect. I need to get me a parasol like the one Alexia has.

    And if you keep reading, more is revealed about both the world and the nature of Alexia's unique situation.

    #4. I love Carriger's humor. This is one of the few books/series that has made me genuinely LOL. The lisping vampire? Hilarious. I hadn't heard it as Buffy meets Austen, but ACCURATE.

    #8. "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 THIS THIS. I usually hate when authors do this, but Carriger likes to make me a hypocrite. It really did work, and she eventually show what she had "told" before.


    #10. Agree, again about the cover. It is a shame that this was whitewashed. I do love this series, but every book features some pale, wan girl who is CLEARLY not Alexia.

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  29. Yesss, so glad you loved this! I've only read the first book of the spinoff MG/YA series - Etiquette & Espionage - but I loved it entirely. I should have known that the original series would be just as good! And it seems like you felt pretty much the same about this one as I did about the spinoff series. Definitely reminiscent of the wit and whimsy of Jo's writing and characters, but unlike with The Burning Sky, it didn't annoy me in E&E. What can I say? It was just utterly charming. And I know I would feel the same about this one.

    Oh, and you MUST watch Buffy.

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  30. I want to read the spin-off series right after I finish this one. I saw that it'd gotten a bunch of rave critical reviews and rave blogger ones. "And I know I would feel the same about this one." <-- Right? There's something to be said for the fact that her voice, humor, and world are so well established that you and I both can say this of the spin-off and the original.


    Hahaha, I tried watching a few episodes. I, er, may have started laughing o.O.

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  31. The first few seasons of Buffy are pretty cheesy, it's true. I think it's not until later that I realized the true brilliance of the dialogue and characters. The show probably reaches its height of brilliance in Season 6. Especially with the musical episode!

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