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Thursday, March 18, 2010

review: Soulless by Gail Carriger


Parasol Protectorate #1:
Soulless
by Gail Carriger

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?

adult fiction ; historical ; speculative { genre
PG-13 for violence and sexual content { rating
October 1, 2009 { first released
Orbit paperback (375 pages) { review edition
won from Stone SouP { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
Paranormal steampunk sounded like such an awesome mesh, plus I loved the style of humor on the back cover blurb =D

First Lines
Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.
She glared at the vampire.

Overall Rating
☂☂☂☂.5

It has been utterly too long a time since I've giggled my way through an entire novel - in the good way. This novel is filled with intricate world-building, smoothly blending paranormal oddities within a steampunk setting. The most winning part of all however, has definitely got to be the incredibly quirky, yet sympathizing and adore-able characters, major and minor. There is no cliffhanger ending, but this is the kind of book where you'll be pining for the sequel just to meet the characters again.

review posted to Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂☂.5

Unlike some of the other urban fantasies where supernatural beings are relegated to "less than human" statuses (serving a certain social allegory, I understand), Soulless portrays a world where vampires and werewolves have become so integrated within the British population that they have high-ranking representatives within the Queen's court. They have essentially "come out" of the darkness and adopted the customs of polite society, vampires seeking only willing blood donors and werewolves willingly restraining themselves on the full moon (serving another social allegory, perhaps one of cultural assimilation). The hierarchies and practices of each "race" is also laid out in practical lights: with Hives and Roves, Packs and Loners, closets in foreign offices where travelling werewolves can put on some clothes after transformation.
On the other hand, the steampunk element of the book is also quite pronounced: in the little gadgets characters sometimes fiddle with, in Alexia's trusty gear-laden parasol, and probably most of all in the monstrous steam-powered machines seen towards the end of the book. The majority of the book is spent within the higher echelons of society, and while I would have loved to see more street-level happenings, I am quite satiated by the abundance of imagery already thrown my way.
The mystery part of this book was not as "hard" to guess as I had expected since some of the hints seemed deliberately blatant. Thus, for most of the book it is more of a light "thriller and suspense", which I must point out is just as fun.

Characters
☂☂☂☂☂

Alexia Tarabotti is awesome. She's incredibly Italian independent, values intelligent conversation, and is keenly aware of her strengths and shortcomings...for the most part. She's manipulative in the sense that she knows how to play social expectations to her advantage (ex. feigning weakness or ignorance as a gentlewoman), but privately refuses to conform to those expectations. I also love that she is so the Alpha Female in the relationship, even though there was a bit of self-deprecating angst in the middle. Lord Macoon is just a whipped, horny puppy lol.
Now Lord Akeldama, he is awesome. He wears 3-inch heels, "speaks predominantly in italics", and is fabulously gay. His mansion is filled with his loving male drones (companions/servants/blood donors) who are all equally fabulous and adorably smitten with him. That is no grounds with which to dismiss him as comic relief however, as he is also one of the oldest vampires in Britain, and the one friend Alexia can hold an intelligent conversation with. I dearly wished he and his drones were in more of the story as he is easily my favourite character, but I do love what we see so far of the close friendship he shares with Alexia.
What I also love about this book is that the side characters are, for the most part, all given some level of depth and interaction. The main couple, Alexia and Lord Macoon, don't forget about their friends once they fall (deeper) in love. Macoon, the Alpha werewolf, worries over his Beta, Professor Lyall, when he overworks himself; Alexia takes the time to thank the vampire guard who saved her, even though he's never heard from again.
Some 2D characters do exist of course: the Queen, Ivy (kind of defined by her hats), Mr. Loontwill...yet there is also the wax man, who is entirely CREEPY HAS HELL in all his 2D glory.
Have I mentioned I totally wanna see more of Lord Akeldama's fabulous but capable fighter drones?

Writing
☂☂☂☂

There is a copious amount of time spent in the book illustrating the details in fashions, architecture, and mechanical devices. Unlike sci-fi, the descriptions don't go all technobabble on you (though I like technobabble just fine =D), and stick quite close to their practical functions.
Of course, there is also the delicious humor: a combination of sarcastic, deadpan, and matter-of-fact. It is not overwhelmingly overused, which allowed for the critical moments of sobriety and tension. However, it is sprinkled liberally enough throughout to elicit a much-welcome giggle here and there.
I also must point out, while I usually find smut and/or erotic kisses rather boring (gasp! I know!), the sexual encounters in this novel were slightly more amusing than the usual. It's adorably awkward in some cases, and full of snarky goodness in others.
And here, as I am quite a picky reader, I do see some little issues that bugged me. First of all, the narration was a bit confusing at first because the third-person jumps without warning between different characters' headspaces within the span of the same conversation, and sometimes I couldn't keep up with the pronouns fast enough. Second, there were rather a lot of repetitive lines and emphasis, whether it's Lord Macoon being Scottish or Alexia being very very smart - it just seems a tad redundant. Still, none of those quibbles make this book even remotely unenjoyable, even for a picky person like me.

Ending
☂☂☂

I'm quite mixed about the ending. On the one hand, I loved loved loved the action and tension that built up towards the climax. I was really really worried that some of the characters might not make it out alive. On the other hand, it was a bit too clean a resolution. The destruction of final boss was a bit too easy and none of the villains seem to have escaped. Is it really that easy to eradicate a the ideological pursuits of these people?
The whole ceremony thing was slightly tedious, and it was very much a "explain where everyone ended up" ending. I am also a bit dubious about the seemingly immediate recruitment as a muhjah too. While it did emphasize that it was a gained position, perhaps it would have worked better as a gradual thing in the beginning of the sequel?
Either way, even with all the major plot lines resolved and no cliff in sight, I'm still rather desperate for the second novel (coming out soon!), just so I can see my favourite characters again.

Parasol Protectorate Series
#1 Soulless (2009)
#2 Changeless (2010)
#3 Blameless (2010)

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge 2010 → C for Carriger (author)
New Author Challenge 2010 → Gail Carriger
Books Won Challenge 2010
TwentyTen Challenge → T.B.R.
The 4 Month Challenge Part 3 → author born in March, April, May or June
1st in a Series Challenge 2010 → Parasol Protectorate Series

Meme Features
In My Mailbox: 2010/02/21
Teaser Tuesday
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5 comments:

Lauren {Geeb} said...

Sounds like an amusing book! Great review. Beautiful blog! I am a new fan for sure!

Book Monster said...

Great review!! Sounds interesting, the cover looks cool!!

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

ughhhhhhhhhh "social allegory". I hate it when they pull that in urban fantasy especially, with the whole 'ghettoizing' of the poor oppressed paranormal creatures blah after they 'come out' to the 'real world' and a;lfja;sfja; Dunno how I feel about a possible "cultural assimilation" here instead, but I suppose at least doesn't quite hit my red button as the... other one does. but still, I hate allegories.

May give this a try if I can nab it off of you. Mostly because of the steampunk-ness. I'd try anything steampunk these days.

Lauren said...

This sounds *so* good. I love steampunk and I love quirky, so I'm sure this one will be a winner for me. Thanks for a great review. :)

Christina T said...

Fantastic review! I really want to read this book now. It sounds like something I'd love.