Published by Orbit
Vampires and werewolves are part of Victorian England’s high society in Gail Carriger’s debut novel Soulless. The title refers to protagonist Alexia Tarabotti, whose lack of soul is, for lack of a better word, a kryptonite to the supernatural. In some ways, the novel is a comedy of manners and character study of Alexia – her Italian father died, leaving her to fend against her annoying mother, barely-there stepfather and prattling sisters. At the ripe old age of 26 in the Victorian society of the novel, Alexia is considered a spinster. Her half-Italian heritage combined wither her age make her near unmarriable. Despite this, Alexia is headstrong, confident, and at times, rebellious.
Carriger does an impressive job of drawing the reader into the story immediately, as Alexia is confronted by a savage vampire at a party. She is shocked at its behavior, since most vampires know of her soulless status and would not be so forward in trying to drain an individual of their blood. With no other recourse, Alexia holds out her parasol and stabs the vampire in the heart, killing him. Carriger soon reveals the hierarchy of supernatural creatures in England. Vampires, unspurprisingly, hold very estimable positions in society, after all, they are long-lived and hold much knowledge. Werewolves hold to a pack mentality and are looked down upon in some circles as below man.
That bit about werewolves causes some problems, as the chief investigator in the case involving Alexia’s vampire attack is the head of the government’s supernatural investigations division (Bureau of Unnatural Registry – BUR) Lord Maccon. Maccoon and Alexia have crossed paths before, and through Alexia’s internal dialogue, we get to know some of the disdain she supposedly feels for the werewolf. The feeling, it seems, is mutual. Or rather, they both deny the attraction they feel for each other as both act in a very Alpha manner, Maccoon is after all the Alpha of his werewolf pack and Alexia is just purely a headstrong woman.
Alexia is soon summoned to the ruling vampire to answer for the events of the night which kicked off the novel. Rightfully so, even the otherwise headstrong Alexia is intimated, so she visits Lord Akeldama who is perhaps her closest vampire friend. Akeldama is an outcast himself, having no real ties to vampire society in addition to being quite flamboyant.
Carriger has also built up a credible backstory to the supernatural world presented in the novel. She hints at a legacy of vampires, and logically posits that if they are so old and have gained so much knowledge, they would naturally fit in at the upper echelon of society and would furthermore help to firmly entrench Great Britain as the dominant nation on the planet. She also provides ample background to the characters themselves, implying the aforementioned history between Alexia and Lord Maccoon.
By this point, it would seem that I enjoyed the novel. I did – up to the first 80-100 pages, which worked well for me. I was enjoying the way Carriger revealed her supernatural world and I liked the characters of Lord Maccoon, Alexia, and Lord Akeldama. Unfortunately, the immediacy of the opening of the novel and the charm of the characters began to wear off as the novel progressed, especially the prattling between Alexia and her friend Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, a constant wearer of ugly hats. I also found Alexia’s and Maccon’s back and forth to lack the pull when they first began their romance in the novel. Lastly, I felt browbeat by a lot of the repetitive aspects of the novel, the continual reference to Hisselpenny’s ugly hats, and the even more derogatory slant of Alexia’s Italian heritage which seemed to be pointed out every five pages, to the point where I started to say to myself, “OK, I get it, she’s half Italian and that’s not a good thing.”
All told, this was a frustrating read for me. I wanted to like the book since I like the premise, the backstory of the world and the impressive manner in which Carriger pulled me into the story. As the novel progressed, the novel shifted to more of a romance that just didn’t connect with me and perhaps Carriger attempted to bring too many ingredients (urban fantasy / steampunk / comedy-of-manners / romance / horror / mystery / satire / science-fiction/) into the mix. I don’t doubt the novel will do well though, as Carriger does offer an interesting twist with a unique character in the over-saturated market of urban fantasy.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford