Soulless by Gail Carriger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ms. Carriger, congratulations! This was a great ride. I can honestly say that I laughed myself silly reading this book. This is one of those books that will probably embarrass you if you read it in public. You have been warned! This is the first novel that I've read that managed to cleverly and gently satirize the conventions of historical romance, and it was done in a manner that was utterly irresistible. I have not read any Wodehouse, but I imagine I will like him very much, if he is indeed an influence on this author's writing.
Not only did I enjoy the humor, I thought the characters were beyond interesting. Alexia is one of those heroines that will stand out in the reader's mind. She's intelligent, gutsy, fierce, yet ladylike and admirable. Although she has moments where she's down on herself (she seemed unable to accept that Lord Maccon was interested in her, but it totally made sense to me), she manages to be remarkably comfortable in her own skin. I believe that this is a big part of her appeal to Lord Maccon. Alexia is an alpha woman that I really like. She doesn't come on too strong, and she knows her limits. Throwing her weight around is not a tactic that she resorts to. But if you try something, she will make sure you know it's not happening. I liked that she was a woman of her times, in that she was strong, intelligent, and passionate; yet, she possessed the morals and understandings of what was appropriate in her society. Alexia's ability felt very novel to me. I especially liked how she used it when she interacted with the supernatural people in her life, especially Lord Maccon. There's a really good part where Alexia has to get up close and person with a naked Lord Maccon to keep him from changing back into a wolf. And they sure do take advantage of that moment. Naked Lord Maccon, up close and personal, who could blame a girl?
Ah, let's talk about Lord Maccon. Three words: To Die For! I loved him. Not too surprising, since I happen to adore, big, sexy, Scottish werewolves. But it's the whole package with him. I like that he's rough around the edges. Smooth operators bore me. The unpolished, fierce heroes, they get me everytime. Ooh, he had me reading this book furiously to get to the next scenes with he and Alexia. I loved all his scenes, in human and in werewolf form.
Alexia and Lord Maccon had awesome chemistry. This is not really a romance novel, so the reader must keep this in mind. Soulless is more of a fantasy with a very strong romance. If you take that into consideration and enjoy the ride, the romantic moments will be a pleasant surprise on top of the humor and the fantastic elements. Having said that, I loved all the smootchy/getting personal scenes. This book has that element of Victorian romance that I just love. The whole "we are passionately carried away, but this is really improper and I hope we don't get caught" theme really works for me. I loved how they couldn't seem to keep their hands off each other. Very appealing! Alexia and Lord Maccon are going on my favorite couples list. No doubt about it.
Now to the fantasy/steampunk elements. I thought Ms. Carriger did a great job. Initially, I had to get used to the writing style. Like I said earlier, I haven't read too many satirical-styled stories. I had to realize that I couldn't take things too seriously. Once I got into that mode, I was good. This book is an interesting hybrid in that it's definitely a humorous story, but there are some edgy, dark elements, as well. The automaton was pretty darn creepy. I immediately started thinking about golems when it was first introduced. I liked how she took the golem folklore and gave it a steampunk twist. I could completely understand why Alexia found it so repulsive. It was alive, but so opposite from what a living being might be. I liked the adventure aspects. This book made me think of the old school adventure storytellers like Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, although this book doesn't stray far from the drawing rooms and polite environs of London and its suburbs. I could easily imagine Ms. Carriger writing a ripping, neo-pulp adventure yarn. If she does, sign me up! I hope she has a Roxton-esque hero if she does. Hint, Hint. I definitely think this would make a great movie (in the right hands).
Steampunk is a new, but beloved genre for me. When it comes to technical and mechanical devices, I have no imagination. So I have to give it to Ms. Carriger for writing these aspects very well. I had a very good visual picture of the steam-driven, clockwork technology in my head while I was reading. Yet, she didn't overdo it so that I was more focused on trying to picture these devices and not focused on the story.
Vampires and werewolves are the main supernatural beasties in this story. They are very politically and socially-organized, to the degree that they have advisors to the queen herself. I admit, I really had to focus on this aspect, needing to reread a few paragraphs to really gain an understanding of the social structure of the two supernatural groups. But it was time well spent. I liked reading about the social dynamics of the vampire society, divided up into hives, each with a Queen vampire (she's the only one who can make new vamps), and having human servants called drones. Lord Akeldama, Alexia's flamboyant friend who happens to be a very powerful vampire, was a hoot. His fashion sense was outrageous, and he kept me laughing. On the werewolf side, I was enamored with Professor Lyall, the competent, extremely intelligent beta to the Alpha werewolf, Lord Maccon, Earl of Woolsey. I hope to see a lot more of Prof. Lyall. The werewolf pack dynamics were especially interesting to me, werewolf lover that I am. I absolutely love the werewolf salute given to Alexia at the end of this book. I was practically clapping. I think you could see that the vamps and weres were very integrated into society, and a huge part of the governmental workings of the author's concept of Great Britain of the 19th Century. It really gives a different perspective on the British Empire.
Man, this was a great read. If you're coming from a romance or a contemporary urban fantasy background, this book will take you out of your comfort zones, but it's so worth it. Hang in there until you get used to the flow of the language (it's very 19th century), and relax and enjoy the witty humor (it's very funny). You will have a great time. Don't forget to bring your tricked-out parasol and glassicals, just in case.
View all my reviews >>