Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1) by Gail Carriger
Published: Orbit Books (2009), Paperback, 357pg
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Sci-fi, Steampunk
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? 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. (from Amazon)Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
I borrowed this from a coworker who told me it was a historical fantasy mystery with steampunk and werewolves and vampires, and the vampires weren’t ninnies. You can see she knows my taste in books extremely well– probably because I complain to her whenever I have a problem with a book! I’m always telling her I want to see something different in fantasy books, not just the same old stuff rehashed and stuffed into a leather miniskirt. And Soulless turned out to be that book!
My coworker didn’t tell me Soulless was a paranormal romance, though, which was probably actually a good thing because I tend not to like most paranormal romances (humans with paranormal creatures just squick me, okay). However, the romance in this book was actually quite interesting and, well, romantic, and I really liked it! I think this is because Alexia is human but she’s got an edge over paranormal creatures, so it kind of…evens the odds? Something like that.
I really liked Alexia, because she kind of reminded me of Marian from The Woman in White, except she’s not actually ugly and only thinks she is because her family keeps telling her that. That’s horrible stuff, and I didn’t entirely understand why her own mother was so horrible to her, but then I often don’t understand when mothers hate their children. Anyway, Alexia is smart and brave and obviously restricted under the Victorian mores and morals of the time, and I can’t wait until she finally breaks free and starts actually doing investigative stuff. And I loved the other characters too, especially the werewolves. I never expected to like a werewolf, mainly because I’m so disinterested by them in general. But I liked them in Soulless!
The plot was really interesting, too. It’s sort of like in the Sookie Stackhouse books, when the vampires reveal themselves? Except in the Soulless world it’s vampires and werewolves, mainly, and I think they revealed themselves rather early on. I read somewhere that Ms Carriger created her world with the idea that the werewolves/vampires helped England become an empire and so on, and I find that idea really fascinating, as well. Plus there’s some steampunk stuff, although not as much as my coworker would have be believe, and it all seems to take a backseat to the romance bit, anyway. But still, really exciting stuff.
On the other hand, as much as I loved the characters and plot I kept getting tripped up by the details of the world. For instance, I don’t entirely understand the whole “soulless” thing. She doesn’t have a soul, okay, and that makes her the antithesis to paranormal creatures because they have too MUCH soul. But…how does that work in everything outside the paranormal realm? If she doesn’t have a soul then how does she have feelings? The book mentions that she spent a lot of time reading philosophy and whatnot because she didn’t think that she had a strong moral center because of her soullessness. So is she actually moral, or not? And how do they measure how much soul a person has, anyway, when one of the scientists in the book specifically states that he’s trying to figure out a way to do it himself? And so on.
I think the problem is that a soul in the Parasol Protectorate world means something different than it does in our world, but because it’s never fully explained, I’m left confused and wondering. My coworker has a theory that more will be explained in the subsequent books, and I hope she’s right because it’s kind of an important plot point, after all. Also, the thing about measuring souls– maybe paranormal creatures have a way of doing it that humans don’t? But that’s never said, either, I don’t think.
This leaving-stuff-out business really annoys me, actually. Not because I expect an author to show all their cards in the first book of a series, but the way it’s presented in Soulless left me with the impression that it was a rather slapdash decision, one that was made to give the character/series something oomph to make it different from all the other paranormal romance books. It didn’t seem to me like Ms Carriger had it figured out, entirely, and that makes me wary. If an author doesn’t know how her own world works– that’s sort of a bad thing, right?
But I’m probably wrong. I hope I’m wrong, at least! And I’m sure the next book will have some more explanations, so it’s a good thing that the rest of this book was so great because it makes me want to read the rest of the series for a better reason than “maybe she’ll explain this thing”! Soulless really was a good book, and I do look forward to reading the next book, which I think is coming out in April? So, yay!
Read: March 9-12, 2010
Have you seen this video yet? It’s the making of the third book’s cover, and it’s really interesting. I love the covers for this series– they’re so stylish and memorable. Anyway, the video: