Monday, October 24, 2011

review of an actual "modern" novel: soulless

Yes, this is an exciting moment for me- I will be doing my first review ever of a novel written about Victorians by 21st century authors!  Why this is such a big deal has been explained in this previous post about steampunk novels.

The book of choice for my dissection:  Gail Carriger's Soulless.   Why?  The description on the back was most entertaining (i.e. the diction was hilarious).

So, without further ado, my review of Soulless.

*Warning: Here Be Spoilers for the novel Soulless by Gail Carriger. Do not read if you do not want the book ruined for you.*

image source: Wikipedia
This novel tells the story of Alexia Tarrabotti- half Italian, a spinster, and a person without a soul, living in an alternate Victorian London where werewolves and vampires have become integral, mostly accepted members of polite society.  In this steam-powered world of automatons, dirigibles, and hot water heaters for tea in carriages, vampires feed only off of willing victims (such as "bloodwhores"- yes, blood prostitutes) and werewolves imprisoning themselves during the full moon to prevent harming any mortals.

Where does a soulless individual fit into this colorful world of supernatural beings mingling with the upper echelons of 19th century English society?  As an overtly practical, outspoken, scientifically inclined and fashionably sensitive spinster of 26 whose very touch can neutralize supernatural powers and whose own family is unaware of this "minor" fact.

Now take that combination with a mystery involving vanishing vampires and new vampires popping up in their places, a very aggressive, attractive werewolf agent of the Crown butting heads with the socially unacceptably assertive Miss Tarabotti, evil scientists and a plethora of brass octopuses, and you have a steampunk paranormal romance novel.

Add Gail Carriger's ability for creating colorful characters; short, descriptive details not only of dresses but also quick assessments of the appearance of rooms and people's changing emotions;Victorian social norms and scientific discoveries (she knew that aluminium was a new and expensive metal at that time!); with creative diction and a style that constantly keeps the reader's interest (i.e. explaining much in as few words as possible); and you have a recipe for a terrific read.

Part of the creativity is due to the authoress's passing descriptions of the "changes" in history due to her alternative historical take.  For example, the schism between Henry VIII and the Roman Catholic Church is attributed to his allowing supernatural folk to live in peace alongside his subjects.  Whether a divorce from Catherine of Aragon figures into this theory is not mentioned, but because that event has nothing to do with the Soulless storyline itself one believes that it can be safely omitted.  The same goes for American history- the Puritans did leave England over religious differences- many of those differences with roots in the belief that vampires and werewolves are demonic creatures who should be killed, not invited into society with open arms.  Therefore, in the America of Carriger's mind, the Land of the Free is usually not so for supernatural beings.  England is, at this time, much more progressive on the topic.

The other refreshing breath of fresh air is the character of Alexia herself.  While she is assertive and strong-willed, it is obvious that she is also very vulnerable to self-doubt and feelings of self-depreciation.  These feelings do not consume the narrative, but they pop up at appropriate moments in brief but significant descriptions that tell the reader of a life filled with little affection, kindness, or love from her mother, stepfather, and half-sisters.  Her sardonic tongue and strong personality seem to be shields from that inner vulnerability, further developing her character without straying too far from the storyline.

Surprisingly, this is the first book I've ever liked that had vampires in it!  If an author can get me to like vampires then they deserve much praise.

My only dislike about this book is that it was a romance novel. I've only had the misfortune of reading a romance novel once before.  While it was not a terrible experience the genre itself is one that I have stayed away from for well over ten years.  I must applaud the author once again on her writing ability- the romance is mixed in with the storyline in such a way that it does not detract from it.  That, and the characters involved in that aspect of the story play it out in a very Victorian way- the naive female partner of the relationship really not knowing anything about sex and exploring the potential of crossing the boundaries set by society while still trying her hardest to restrain herself, and the male being filled with an animal and overly assertive lust but... perhaps caring more in an emotional way than he would ever let on if not directly asked.

Overall, I highly recommend this read to anyone looking for a paranormal steampunk book that dabbles in some adult themes.

1 comment:

  1. The books that follow are not romancey so have no qualms about continuing with the series.