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REVIEW: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Dear Ms. Carriger:

0316056634.01.LZZZZZZZOrbit kindly sent me a copy of your book for review. (Thanks Orbit). I became interested in this book, not because of a blurb or someone else’s review or anything like that. No, I became interested in the book after spending far too long playing with the Soulless digital paper doll. (Readers, it’s a timewaster. Don’t cl—okay, well, come back after you are down, okay?)

I have very little knowledge of the sub genre called Steampunk and its sister creatures. Therefore, a review from me will not have the scope or depth of someone familiar with the trope. I am afraid that my inexperience is going to seep through here, but the best I can do is tell you what I liked and what I didn’t. If the reader is a long time lover of steampunk or intimately acquainted with period pieces like gaslight fantasies and the like, then the reader may have a completely different reaction to this book.

Based on the previous discussion of steampunk, I would classify this solidly as a gaslight fantasy. It has steampunk elements, but very little of the book is focused on the technological aspects of the period. Instead the story rests upon the relationship of Alexia Tarabotti, Lord Maccon, the Alpha of Woolsey Castle; and a strange monstrous creature that is neither werewolf, vampire or ghost, the only supernaturals that are supposed to exist. This strange creature, or group of creatures, are picking off the lone wolves and the lone vampires (roves) and have an unseemly interest in Alexia. With this background, Lord Maccon comes to the realization that he is greatly attracted to Alexia and Alexia has to overcome her lack of self esteem to accept Lord Maccon’s permanent attentions.

Soulless is set in 19th Century London, the center of technological and sociological advancement. There are fun references to this time period being so “modern” and how things aren’t done in this “day and age”. Cleverly, the acceptance of the supernatural among the humans is tied to real world events.

Before the hives and packs made themselves known on the British Isle. Before that prestigious revolution in philosophy and science that their emergence triggered, known to some as the Renaissance but to vampires as the Age of Enlightenment. Supernatural folk called the time before the Dark Ages, for obvious reasons. For them it had been an age spent skulking through the night.

Werewolves and vampires presented a peculiar place within society, of a class like successful tradesmen. They weren’t the first choice for the upper echelon of society to mingle with, but they do have a certain cache. They advise the Queen and hold powerful political positions. They are rich and interesting.

Alexia Tarabotti is neither human nor supernatural. According to the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR), Alexia is preternatural because she had no soul. Supernaturals were those beings who had an excess of soul and therefore could handle the transition of human to supernatural, be it vampire, werewolf, or ghost. Additionally, most wanted to preserve their youth and thus requested to be transformed at a young age. Alexia presented a danger to supernaturals. By her touch, she could raise up their human nature and render their magic null. There were few soulless individuals and apparently it was something Alexia inherited from her father, along with his exceedingly long nose and unfavorably dark skin.

Alexia, having learned early on that she was soulless, determined to embrace it by learning all she could from her father’s library of the supernatural. She understood that was an unlikely bride for any man. Indeed, her mother had decided the best place for Alexia was on the shelf. “So Alexia, whose nose really wasn’t that big and whose skin really wasn’t that tan, had gone on the shelf at fifteen.” Alexia believes her lack of connection to people is based on her soullessness and her conviction of this leads to her being brash and alienating to those around her. It is a vicious little circle. She holds herself aloof from society before it can reject her, causing her to become different enough for society to reject her.

The worldbuilding was extremely robust and given in small, telling details as well as broader strokes. Alexia knew, for example, that a vampire that attacked her was very young because he had a “fang-lisp” and “among vampires, lisping was the height of vulgarity.” Heavy velvet drapes had become in fashion at the emergence of the supernaturals who avoided sunlight. The “daytime folk” observed different societal customs than those of the Pack or the hives (vampires). Courting between the two was very awkward.

At times the storytelling was a bit clumsy. There was awkward head hopping that was used to create sympathy for characters or provide a more omniscient view of the characters for the readers. The point of view shifts from individual to omniscient to individual whenever it was convenient. At one point, Alexia presses Lord Maccon’s Beta for information about whether Lord Maccon was interested in her. It seemed very grade school like.

Alexia’s self pity (her belief that she couldn’t be attractive, even or especially, to Lord Maccon) was made obvious time and again. This tendency toward repetition seemed to be a stylistic choice as it occurred, well, repeatedly. For example, Ivy Hisselpenny is Alexia’s best friend. She is known for her hideous hats. Every scene with Ivy must contain, then, a fulsome description of the hat and Alexia roundly criticizing Ivy for her deplorable taste.

This story, while labeled horror/fantasy, is more paranormal romance. You could not remove the romance between Lord Maccon and Alexia and have the same story. Further, the romance makes up a substantial physical portion of the story, let alone meaning. To those readers who pick this story up expecting something like a historical War for the Oaks will likely be disappointed. I wish it had been marketed and labeled a romance. It would have been better in setting expectations.

The ending kind of fell apart for me. It was a little too focused on the romance at inopportune times and it was a little too heavy handed on the setup for the next book. That said, I did enjoy Soulless. I think most romance readers would as well. There is plenty of sexual tension and accessible worldbuilding. I am eager for the next Parasol Protectorate novel which, Orbit, can be sent to me at any time. ;) B-

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers. (for some reason, the book is not showing up at the Sony store, so here’s the link to BooksonBoard.)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

26 Comments

  1. katiebabs
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 17:31:25

    This book cracked me up. I couldn’t stop laughing and the romance was just too cute for words.

    I think with each copy of Soulless you should get a free parasol. :D

  2. Dana
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 17:44:13

    You sold me on this. The book sounds awesome. And the ebook is set at a reasonable price. Yay!

    But why is Soulless listed in the: Health & Fitness : Diets – General eBooks category at BoB? That’s so random. :p

  3. Barb
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 18:20:35

    I loved it. Like katiebabs, I just chortled my way through this. Yes, the writing was clunky at times–but I got so caught up in the story that it didn’t matter. I want the next one now. I guess in the meantime I shall just have to keep playing with the ‘paper’doll.

  4. Jessica Kennedy
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 21:08:49

    Agreeing with katiebabs and Barb.

    This book was one of the funnest books I’ve read! It had everything I look for in a book. I reviewed it on my blog.

    I too will accept Changeless whenever it is available for review! :)

  5. Gail Carriger
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 21:17:57

    I promise, there’s less romance in the second one. And of course, I think it’s better. And that the third is better than the second. Author fickleness, we always love the one were with best.

  6. Aoife
    Oct 01, 2009 @ 22:12:39

    I am in complete agreement with Jane’s review, although my grade was a little lower. I was very excited when I heard about Soulless because Steampunk+romance seems like a great idea. Unfortunately I was a bit disappointed all around. One of my daughters is in to Steampunk, and one of the important elements, aside from the gadgets and gizmos, is an overall darkness of tone, which I felt Soulless lacked. The Steampunk bits felt tacked on, and if they hadn’t been there it wouldn’t have made much difference to the story, which, as Jane pointed out, is heavy on the romance, not so much on the world-building. It felt rather wallpapery.

    The other thing that bothered me a lot was some of the word choices. For example, Alexia is supposed to be a well brought up young lady, and yet, during a dinner, she thinks of her dinner partner, to whom she has just been introduced, as a “sod,” which totally threw me out of the story since it is definitely not a word that any young lady of good family would have known, much less used. This happened quite a bit, unfortunately, and prevented me from just going along for the ride, which I had been willing to do. I was expecting to be immersed in an alternate Victorian England, and there were just too many anachronistic or American word choices that kept jolting me out of the story.

    Having said all that, I read Soulless in one evening, and enjoyed it enough that I’ll pick up the next book in the series when it comes out, but I’ll also be hoping for more of a true Steampunk flavor, and a little smoother writing.

  7. Alice
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 00:08:19

    I’m in love with the Victorian Dress up doll! Still playing with it. Te-he!

  8. Helen Burgess
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 04:32:09

    I realy enjoyed Soulless, and I am glad it was not “darker”. The scientists were dark enough for me. The whole aspect of being able to tune off one’s compassion so to be able to experiment without thought to the expermentees pain and suffering is horrible to me – whatever the setting. Ps. Loved the doll!

  9. Helen Burgess
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 04:42:31

    P>S Meant to say, loved the doll

  10. cdouglas
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 07:29:49

    I saw this book a few days ago on Amazon when I was searching stuff tagged Victorian and although I’m not a big paranormal reader, I do like steampunky stuff and Victorian era, and it sounded like I book I should check out. I’m glad to see it reviewed here. I think I’ll pick it up.

    And the digital paper doll is evil…yeah, I’ve all ready wasted too much time this morning with it.

  11. ardeatine
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 07:30:41

    “So Alexia, whose nose really wasn't that big and whose skin really wasn't that tan, had gone on the shelf at fifteen.”

    It does sound like a fun premise for a book, but if that’s an example of the writing then it’s rather too american in tone for a book set in gaslight London. They would have thought in terms of tanned, not tan. I don’t mind leeway with historical detail, but perhaps the editor should have caught that one as it knocks the tone off balance.

  12. Kalen Hughes
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 08:19:01

    I’m off to buy this, but am I the only one who can’t help but read “Maccon” as “Macaroon”? I just know the whole book–for me–is going to be about a woman being romanced by a giant cookie, LOL!

  13. Karen
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 11:47:55

    I definitely need to get this one! And I definitely should’ve waited until after work to have fun with dolls…

  14. Brandy
    Oct 02, 2009 @ 14:20:46

    I read this book last night and review it, too. I really enjoyed it and found it dark enough, yet not too dark. The romance was quite cute and I look forward to the next book, Changeless due out in April 2010.

  15. Statch
    Oct 03, 2009 @ 06:19:34

    I’m in the middle of reading Soulless and am really enjoying it. I really liked the emphasis on the romance, and probably wouldn’t have been as interested in it if it hadn’t clearly been a romance. I guess it takes all kinds of readers, huh?

  16. rosecolette
    Oct 03, 2009 @ 13:54:16

    Just finished Soulless and am officially smitten with Alexia. As others have said, the romance is cute and I’m really looking forward to the next book.

  17. Jana Oliver
    Oct 05, 2009 @ 08:21:52

    I just finished SOULESS last night and enjoyed it. The head hopping did jar me a bit. That used to be my biggest “fault” and I’m overly sensitive to it since my critique group had to beat it out of me. Once I accepted that was the style of the novel, I stopped fidgeting.

    I enjoyed the characters, the sharp dialog and the romance between the hero and the heroine. The story wasn’t fully steampunk, but enough steampunky elements were introduced to make me smile. I look forward to the next book.

    And I want a parasol like Alexia’s. Practical and lethal. A ideal combination.

  18. Dear Author Recommend Reads for October 2009 | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
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  19. Hydecat
    Oct 12, 2009 @ 08:16:15

    I really enjoyed this book. The writing could be stronger, but the concept was fun and interesting and the characters were too. The book really captured the scientific exuberance of the period and the dark side that came with it without losing the overall comedic tone, which I liked. Also, the paper doll site is genius — especially now that I can recognize the outfits from the book!

  20. Robinjn
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 20:59:26

    Loved this book. I picked it up on impulse on my way to a Florida vacation. Okay, Victorian England and sitting in a beach hut on the bay was a bit jarring, but I was so into this book I couldn’t put it down. Passed it along to my sister as soon as it was done, and she couldn’t put it down either.

    I loved the humor and the setting. It was plenty dark enough for me. One thing I loved was how Carriger sketched in her secondary characters. I mean come on, it doesn’t get any better than a gay Georgian-dressing vampire!

  21. Jane
    Oct 21, 2009 @ 22:04:03

    @Robinjn I’m a little disappointed to read the author’s comment upthread that the second one doesn’t have much romance in it. I love the romance.

  22. MaryK
    Oct 22, 2009 @ 00:27:16

    Does the next book feature the same couple and there’s less romance because they’re already together, maybe?

    I don’t read horror so I was totally ignoring this book until the reviews came out saying it was mislabeled, and now I’m planning to pick it up next time I’m at the bookstore. I doubt I’ll follow the series though if it does drift over into horror.

  23. Jane
    Oct 22, 2009 @ 06:41:26

    @MaryK I do think it follows the same couple. I’ll be picking up the next book for sure so I’ll report back if it is more horror than romance (crossing fingers that it’s more romance than horror).

  24. Sarah
    Nov 04, 2009 @ 07:00:51

    I was a bit disappointed in this debut. I bought it partially to reward such an interesting ad campaign. Ultimately, though, I felt it was a bit lacking. I felt the romance and mystery were lacking. It felt, romance-wise, like a middle book – the hedgehog incident was repeatedly mentioned, and I kind of wanted an explanation. But my favorite part is usually the first meeting, so maybe thats my bias.

    The mystery was a bit off for me as well. Something about it just didnt spark. Maybe it was too subtle for me, but apart from a clue about location, I didnt think the mystery was solvable for the reader, which may be just my own personal preference again.

    I thought it was a good debut, but if the next one isnt better, I might be getting them used or from the library.

    I did, however, enjoy the names of the characters immensely.

  25. Chenebe
    Nov 06, 2009 @ 22:03:36

    This was a fun book and I enjoyed the humour in it, and the atmosphere and details. It isn’t the meatiest of reads but really, it’s meant to be more a treacle tart than a main course.

  26. Thursday Midday Links: Orbit to Publish Digital Shorts | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
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