Soulless by Gail Carriger
Gail Carriger’s steampunk paranormal historical romance mixes Victorian manners, werewolves and hickeys in a book that’s a little different from the average paranormal fare.
Alexia Tarabotti is a souless (literally!) spinster with a fondness for parasols, living in a Victorian London populated by supernaturals who are well organised and fully integrated into society. One day she accidentally kills a vampire, and Lord Maccon, head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) is compelled to investigate. (Did I mention Lord Maccon is a hot werewolf?) Alexia’s propensity to get herself into trouble—though by no real fault of her own—means that she and Lord Maccon are constantly being thrown together, with expected and unexpected results.
Soulless is what I would call a steampunk romance. There’s enough technology and innovation to constitute an exploration of that theme, and there’s enough kissing and werewolf hickeys to make it a romance. It’s a good intro to steampunk for urban fantasy readers who are looking to try it, because while it talks about technology and fantasy it’s not so much of a mix that it becomes overwhelming or confusing. It has a good balance of romance as well, though I think the average non-romance reader might wonder why a lot of time is being devoted to nibbling of the non-food variety.
Alexia is a very strong heroine. One of the things that I liked most about her was that she was strong without trying too hard to kick arse and that she was perfectly content with her life. She is a spinster and a bluestocking (at 26, mind you) and she’s all right with that. Not resigned, not boo hoo I’m making the most of what I’ve got with my life, but yeah, I’m all good with that, no worries content. She is naturally curious about the world around her, and thanks to her late father’s extensive library and the scientific developments of that age, she is very well informed. She’s also not a pushover, despite the dramatic nature of her family and the genteel nature of women of that period—she can not only stand up for herself, she can also wield her parasol in an effective manner.
Lord Maccon is a gruff, control freak, alpha male + pack leader who is trying his best not be confuddled by his sudden attraction to Alexia. His attempts to make things right with her remind me of the Hugh Grant character in romantic comedies except with more balls, the ability to kick serious arse and Christian Bale’s body in American Psycho. (Yes!)
The secondary characters are also well fleshed out, like Lord Maccon’s Beta, the ever efficient Professor Lyall, Lord Akeldama the dandiest, fanciest vampire evah, Floote the unflappable butler, and many others.
I quite enjoyed the richness in prose and the vividness of the descriptions, whether it be of technology, Victorian England or the elaborate outfits that went with each character. The exchanges between characters were snappy but proper. I felt that Alexia was polite even when she was rude to her mother—I don’t think I could ever be that eloquent arguing with mine! I also thought that the author had a good grasp of the tone of the era, and the language always felt appropriate, even if the character was acting outside what would be considered the traditional boundaries of Victorian propriety.
Yay or nay?
I would highly recommend this for lovers of urban fantasy, romance or anyone who would like to try something different from the usual paranormal.
Soulless is published by Orbit. The next book in the series, Changeless, is due for release in March 2010.
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