Soulless – Gail Carriger

(Orbit 2009)
Book the First of The Parasol Protectorate

Miss Alexia Tarabotti suffers under a number of social disadvantages, primarily that she has no soul, but is also a confirmed spinster whose father was Italian. Set in a re-imagined Victorian world where vampires and werewolves have been integrated into society (since a decree of Elizabeth’s, back in the seventeenth century), Miss Tarabotti is first encountered at a ball, where she accidentally kills a vampire. This unintentional act sets the scene for encounters with the Woolsey Castle werewolf Alpha, Conall Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey, who is high up in the Bureau of Unnatural Registration, BUR; and later with the Westminster vampires. Alexia finds herself in the middle of a mystery – vampires are suddenly and inexplicably appearing, and roves and loners (lone vampires and werewolves not attached to a hive or pack, respectively) have been disappearing – which all seems to do with a creepy wax-faced man and other, shadowy figures.

I quite enjoyed this one – it was certainly an easy read – and the plot unfolded nicely. There were good moments of comedy and horror, and I liked the few steampunk elements such as Professor Lyall’s ‘glassicals’ and the portable tea-making apparatus on Mr MacDougall’s carriage, as well as the mention of dirigibles and so on. The main characters were interesting, and I liked Alexia, though suspect she would be a bit much in real life, though I wonder why it was necessary to make her the only intelligent woman of her acquaintance (discounting the vampire queen) – since her friend, half-sisters and mother are all rather silly or shallow (not to mention two-dimensional). It’s an entertaining romp with a romance which doesn’t feel unforced, though I’d have liked to have seen more bickering before the kissing starts: there is a lot of romance, some being quite steamy.

The real criticism I have with this book is the dialogue and the historical detail. Perhaps if one is going to re-imagine Victorian English society so as to include vampires and werewolves, one is free to change things a little, but it felt all wrong to me. It felt more like TV costume drama Victorian society than really historically accurate, with dialogue the characters, if they really had been living at that time, would not have said.

“Well, never mind that; you look positively ghastly,” said Alexia baldly.

“Gee, thank-you very much for your concern, Miss Tarabotti”, replied the earl…

Gee? The earl is a Scottish werewolf, who has only been living in London for the past twenty years (being a werewolf, he is a couple of hundred years old). He would not have said, Gee. Not to mention that he greets Miss Tarabotti at the beginning of the chapter with the word “Bollocks.” I can’t imagine an English gentleman of that period, even a werewolf, greeting anyone, let alone a woman, with that kind of language.

And the names annoyed me, too. I don’t know whether Carriger wanted to be all Dickensian about them (the Duke and Duchess of Snodgrove, for example), but one cannot take seriously a character called Lady Blingchester, not to mention Alexia’s step-father’s name being Loontwill. And that’s another thing which bugged me, that he is always referred to as ‘Squire Loontwill’, which is a title that would never have been used – if he was not ‘Sir Herbert’, then he would have been ‘Mister Loontwill’.

Unlike Aelia Reads where I first came across a review for this book (though I’d seen it recommended to me on Amazon), I didn’t find Lord Akeldama (and what a name that is to conjure with) too irritating (especially towards the end of the book), though I did find his dress style anachronistic, seemingly more reminiscent of the eighteenth century than the nineteenth.

Aelia Reads also linked to a review by the Book Smugglers who suggested that there was not a little resemblance between Alexia and Lord Maccon and Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Emerson Radcliffe in Peters’ late 19th century/early 20th century set Amelia Peabody mysteries. Having only read a few of these, I can see their point, though since I’m not such a huge fan of the Peabody books as they are, this doesn’t bother me as much.

Anyway, if strict historical accuracy doesn’t bother you (and you’re not an Amelia Peabody fan) then this book was a fun, entertaining read in the paranormal romance genre (yes, there I go, categorising).

This entry was posted in 2010 New Reads, Fantasy, Fiction, Reviews, Romance and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Soulless – Gail Carriger

  1. Erin says:

    I rather thought Lady Blingchester was meant to be funny. Of course, bling is modern slang, so it’s reasonable that our pseudo-Victorian characters would not find her name particularly amusing.

    Lord Akeldama himself was just rather… over the top for me. I have flamboyantly gay friends, and they drive me crazy doing that, too (intentionally, because they know it bugs me). (Mostly, I hate that he was described as speaking mostly in italics. That’s a show-us-don’t-tell-us thing) As far as his fashion goes, I really got the impression that he was just stuck in Baroque, perhaps because he was turned then.

    I did enjoy it, though. Whenever I come across ridiculous things that would seem anachronistic, I force myself to mentally place the story in a “parallel universe” and it helps.

  2. ela21 says:

    Yes, I see what you meant about speaking in italics and all the flamboyance (which probably wouldn’t have been inappropriate at a certain point in time) – if only because people back in Victorian times weren’t well educated in typefaces (unless they were type setters) and so a character would more likely refer to someone else speaking as though their words were underlined (if they referred to it at all).

    I did enjoy it too – the anachronistic elements (and the rather more steamy romance than I was expecting) were only slightly irritating.

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