Friday, November 13, 2009

Review: Soulless

Title:  Soulless

Author:  Gail Carriger

Publisher:  Orbit Books

# of Pages:  357

Plot Summary:
Alexia Tarabotti is a half-Italian spinster living in an alternate version of Victorian England.  She is also a preternatural- soulless- and so can counteract the vampires and werewolves around her.  Being basically immune to supernatural activity, and also being a free-thinking older woman, Alexia is pretty used to doing things her own way, unless Lord Maccon the werewolf is involved.  And, he generally is.  At a ball one night, Alexia accidentally kills a vampire while defending herself; upon further investigation, she and Lord Maccon find that there are a great many loner vampires and werewolves disappearing around London.  This is upsetting enough, but when coupled with attacks on her person by wax-faced men and several irritating intrusions by Alexia's horrid family, it is the outside of enough.  Alexia and Maccon, with a strong cast of supporting characters, work together to determine where all the werewolves and vampires are going.  And get up to some shenanigans of their own along the way.

This is one of those books that, while you're reading it, you can just tell that the author had a lot of fun writing it.  I adore historical fiction, though I am more a Georgian and Regency era fan than a Victorian era one.  I also really like fantasy, though I have never really ventured into the vampire or werewolf camp before.  So while this book really intrigued me, I wasn't sure if I would love it.  Luckily, Cara sent me a copy and I was thus able to read it much more quickly than I had expected.  Thanks, Cara!

I will first talk about the many aspects of the books I did like, because I have a feeling the things that annoyed me probably wouldn't annoy the vast majority of people reading this book.

The writing absolutely sparkles.  It is witty, it is sassy, it is wonderful.  Not only the dialogue between characters, but also the internal dialogue.  For example:
She would have colored gracefully with embarrassment had she not possessed the complexion of one of those "heathen Italians," as her mother said, who never colored, gracefully or otherwise.  (Convincing her mother that Christianity had, to all intents and purposes, originated with the Italians, thus making them the exact opposite of heathen, was a waste of time and breath.)  Alexia refused to apologize for the boisterousness of her stomach...
It is hard not to giggle when reading the above, and while reading this book, I often had a smile on my face.  Gail Carriger, I think, set out to write a book in Victorian times because she really likes the way people from that era converse.  I don't blame her- she uses language really well in the book.  It's smart and teasing the whole way through, even while being quite decorous.  Alexia is exactly the sort of person you'd like to sit down with after a bad day and have a snark-fest.

And that's another part I really liked- Alexia, the character.  She could be depressingly down on herself sometimes.  I found that aspect of her character  fairly difficult to believe.  The girl can kill vampires without breaking a sweat, and yet is inordinately self-conscious about the size of her nose.  But then- I'm pretty awesome myself and have moments of insecurity, so I suppose I can understand to an extent.  Alexia is a woman who can hold her own in a conversation and in a fight, and she was a fabulous character.

Maccon, also, as the romantic interest, is a great alpha male.  He's strong and angry and attractive and the interplay between the two of them is a lot of fun to watch.  I also really liked the side characters- one used italics in his speech an excessive amount, but he was still fun.

And that's the big word I'd use to describe this book- fun.  Light and frothy are two others.  Kind of like champagne at midnight on New Year's Eve.  I will definitely be looking into the sequel.

The only aspect of the book that upset me slightly was the treatment Victorian era.  I feel that if you set a book in London in the late 1800s, then you have to work within the confines of the era.  If you don't want to, then I think the book should be set in a different era.  I don't think it's very likely that a young Victorian woman's mother would just decide that her daughter's come-out was not worth the cost due to her being "not pretty."  The logic of this doesn't really make sense as it is far more expensive to house, feed and clothe a person for the rest of her life than it is to launch her into society.  Also, I can't for a moment believe that an unmarried girl would be allowed to entertain gentleman callers alone in the parlor, bar the door to intruders, and then spend an hour with the gentleman while her family sits around outside.

Casting aside these strictures certainly makes it easier for characters to get up to some hanky-panky.  But I personally enjoy the subtlety of the romance of books set in the 19th century, and how it is based on conversation and meaningful smiles and thoughtful acts.  Possibly lame and naive on my part, but it kind of ruins it for me to have characters cheerfully ignoring societal norms and getting it on with each other.

However, that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I will look out for the sequel next year.  I need to learn to just appreciate a book on its fun merits alone, and not let other aspects detract from my enjoyment.  Soulless is clever and entertaining and I'd highly recommend it, as long as you don't let it offend your Victorian sensibilities!

13 comments:

  1. I'm not a big fan of either historical fiction OR vampires/werewolves, but this sounds really quirky and interesting. I'll have to ponder it a bit and see if it's something I might want to try.

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  2. It was fun right :D I am so glad you thought so too.
    As for those other parts, well we can always blame them on the steampunk world, creating something that is slightly not the way the real Victorian would have done things

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  3. My dearest friend Claire gave me a copy and it's been sitting on my to read pile. You make me want to read it even more.
    Have a great weekend.

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  4. I can't wait to read this one. Sounds like so much fun.

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  5. This actually sounds interesting. I will have to add it to the wish list!

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  6. Random thought: Unseen Academicals was where I first learned the expression "hanky-panky". So it'll always be special for me now :P

    I know what you mean about the subtlety, and I agree!

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  7. I am so excited to read this book! The writing does sound very witty.

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  8. This book sounds really interesting. It's not your typical new-girl-meets-super-hot-vampire in a high school setting. Also, it's set in the Victorian era. Who doesn't love that? LOL.

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  9. I'm not big on fantasy books, but I think I enjoy them more when there's a historical aspect to it. I'll keep this one in mind. Thanks for the review.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  10. You know, judging by the cover alone (which you should never, never do) I wouldn't think this book would appeal to me, but after reading your review, I think I would have a lot of fun with this book. I haven't really read anything like this before, and the quotes you provided really make it seem like something I could really get into. If I do end up reading it, I will keep in mind that it portrays the Victorian era a little loosely. Thanks for the awesome review, this one goes right on the list!

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  11. I think that this is a novel I'd like to try. Thanks for the review!

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  12. I don't think I've ever read a combination of historical and vampire books, am really looking forward to this one, despite the historical inconsistencies...

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  13. I'm a fan of weres, vamps and historical fiction, so this book is right up my alley! Thanks for the great review! You should check out my blog on Wolsbane and Mistletoe, a collection of holiday stories lycanthropes, vamps and bad santas!

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