I’m going to begin simply by stating that this book has the cure to whatever ails you. Whether it be work-related blues or sheer tiredness, you’ll start feeling better once you’ve cracked the cover and read the first few pages. I wouldn’t quite suggest it as a prescription, but anything with the wicked kind of humour that Soulless contains is perfectly fine by me.
Meet Alexia Tarabotti, self-proclaimed spinster with a pronounced predilection towards books and a dangerous turn for wielding a parasol to fend off unwanted advances. She has what one might call a slight social impediment: she was born without a soul, and as a result is considered preternatural – between the natural and supernatural worlds. What is especially interesting about Alexia is that due to being soulless, she is able to neutralise any supernatural powers that she comes into direct contact with (such as those of vampires or werewolves, for example). This of course causes a problem when Alexia defends herself against the attack of a vampire, left to the point of starvation and completely uneducated as to how to properly behave.
Armed with her sharp tongue and assertive nature, Alexia must find out why the vampire was left in such a state. In the meantime, she becomes slowly and quietly tangled in a political mess of both supernatural and scientific origin. This necessitates the involvement of the messy and magnetic Lord Conall Maccon, the Earl of Woolsey and Alpha of the local werewolf pack, who is also Queen Victoria’s agent in the matter for the BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry, a division of Her Majesty’s Civil Service). Alexia faces adversity in the form of improper behaviour, family dramatics, attempted kidnapping and things of a far darker calibre. The result of all of the above combined is a fantastic romp through Victorian England, with elements of steampunk and history laced through it. Add to this witty dialogue and the downright brilliance of the unresolved romantic tension between Alexia and Lord Maccon, and you’ve got an incredibly entertaining read.
Amongst this book’s many delightful points, I first feel compelled to praise Gail Carriger for creating such a brilliant female protagonist. Alexia might be soulless, but that definitely doesn’t make her dull. Her verbal fencing with Lord Maccon is simply wonderful, and I was immensely pleased to find a vast amount of it throughout the entire book. Secondly, while Alexia’s nature of being soulless/preternatural is used as an important focal point in the book’s plot, it isn’t constantly thrown into the reader’s face at the expense of all other development. Carriger has woven it in with the complexity of werewolf society, the difficulty of Alexia having to submit to a social climate that doesn’t necessarily suit her assertiveness and the major plot of what is occurring amongst the vampire nests to produce roves (the book’s reference to solitary vampires). The layers make the plot much richer, something which I couldn’t help but appreciate. I also really enjoyed the unique approach to vampires: the idea that only a queen vampire can make more of their kind lends a different angle to the established conventions of vampire literature. I thought that in context of the story, it was very well thought out. In addition to her very nicely crafted protagonist, Carriger’s secondary characters are most definitely worthy of praise. Lord Maccon is simply delicious; rough manners and attractive appearance to boot. Professor Lyall, Lord Maccon’s Beta in the werewolf pack, has a wonderfully dry sense of humour and the kind of arresting politeness that characterises a true gentleman. And last, but certainly not least, there’s the utterly fabulous and absolutely outrageous vampire Lord Akeldama; stylish, loud and genuinely a lot of fun in every sense of the word.
Additionally, the dialogue. Oh my, the dialogue. How can I possibly begin to describe what I loved the most?
Lord Maccon was ever more enraged. “Who bit you?” he roared.
Alexia tilted her head to one side in utter amazement. “You did.” She was then treated to the glorious spectacle of an Alpha werewolf looking downright hangdog.
That, right there, is just a single sample of the glorious play on words that Gail Carriger is capable of. That is one snippet of what runs through this entire book and makes it one of the best reads I’ve had thus far in 2012. I started and finished the book in one night, and purchased the second book in the series today. Please, if you’re suffering from the blues? Go and pick up this book. You won’t regret it.