Today I’m reviewing Soulless by Gail Carriger, published by Orbit/Little Brown.
Soulless is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series; and I was initially unimpressed.
The first two chapters are clunky, try-hard and messy. Soulless adopts the time period and elements of Steampunk but overlays it with tropes from the Gothic genre: werewolves, vampires and ghosts. The rules of this world are that supernatural characters have a predisposition to their state due to an excess of soul.
Mortals have a normal amount of soul, but the heroine Alexia Tarrabotti: tall and tanned and half-Italian and feisty – is a preternatural. She has no soul. However she has a parasol for combat situations and the ability, through touch, to partly reverse supernatural instincts. Shrinking fangs and switching werewolves in and out of were state.
The supernaturals have openly integrated well into London society since the Enlightenment and there is even a Bureau in charge of their affairs, a high-ranking agent of which is Alpha Werewolf, Lord Connall Maccon. The name suggested “macking on” immediately – and duly he is the love interest. Persevere, you’ll forgive Lord Maccon quite quickly as he does just what it says on the tin and rather well.
Much is made of Alexia’s flaws and her singledom, in order to endear her. I baulked at this piecemeal, because she is still beautiful, has an enviable hourglass figure, is intelligent, independent, and has the capability of making a vexatiously gorgeous Alpha Male (whether bitey or no) weak at the knees.
Werewolf lover hounding her and all, she seems a lucky bitch.
However because her mother and siblings systematically attack her self esteem and are practically The Ugly Sisters meets The Young Bennets… you must side with her, because their characters are annoyingly two-dimensional. Carriger steers Alexia into the ‘acceptable faults found unique in the eyes of the hero’ arc I thought a bit too deliberately.
Far more deftness and sincerity is shown when Carriger writes the dialogues in which Alexia tries to logically dissuade Lord Maccon from a relationship. Her dialogue is frank, sad, and broken. Her version of: You think you like me, but you know I’m unworthy right? And not pretty, right? Which… was painfully familiar. I started to care from then on.
Carriger is giggle and snort-inducingly funny, writes good raunch and did masterfully enmesh real history (as backstory) into her myth. Her research was not meticulous in terms of her immediate world building, beyond fashion, food, carriages, some weaponry and a little science: but her alternative history (supernatural anthropology over the ages) feels as if it has real credibility, as well as being knowingly satirical at times.
She does strike me as a lacklustre Janeite – who didn’t keep that continuity of style – and who should have checked her Victorian idioms properly; which I’m sad to say, only a British English editor would know, especially since it is set in England. All that aside, it was a delicious piece of original pulp fiction, thankfully saved from being a Penny Dreadful.