Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Awhile back I posted about blending the paranormal with historical fiction. In Gail Carriger's Soulless I find a charming example of what I mean.

The heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is a Victorian spinster who has no soul. Truly, it isn't as dark a premise as it sounds. In Miss Tarabotti's world, vampires and werewolves are beings with too much soul. Thus, when they come in contact with Alexia, she neutralizes their powers and for the duration of her touch, they are once again mortal. The novel opens up with her being attacked by a vampire who is not in the know as to who she is. After she is forced to kill her attacker, she is confronted by Lord Maccon, alpha werewolf and an authority with the Bureau of Unnatural Registry. He is also handsome, outrageous and far too rude for Alexia's taste.

The story follows a mystery about the disappearance of certain vampires and werewolves. She is warned by Lord Maccon to stay uninvolved, but of course she involves herself anyway. She is a logical woman and it isn't as if she dives in stupidly. Her soullessness does keep her safe from the monsters to a certain point. It also keeps her in Lord Maccon's company more than she would like, or so she says. Thrust together into some very discomfiting circumstances, they search for an answer to the disappearances and must fight the evil responsible.

Soulless is charming. That's the appropriate word. And fun. Although the story revolves around monsters, the tone is light and the book doesn't take itself too seriously. Because as much as this is a paranormal/urban fantasy, is is also a comedy of manners. The historical context of the story is vital to it. Alexia is as perturbed about the cheap clothing the attacking vampire wears as she is about his actions. Her being half-Italian is as much of a concern as her soulless state. Silly really but it plays into the comedy of Victorian society. The attraction between Maccon and Alexia is also delightful. She is always aware of her behavior and strives to maintain respectability whereas Lord Maccon is far too rough around the edges to care. This contrast in behavior is of course which makes them combustible together. I don't want to say too much because it would be easy to spoil this book and I don't want to do that.

Ms. Carriger has brought a unique blend of genres to the page. Historical romance, paranormal and fantasy all blend into a smooth story. To squeeze Soulless into one genre is not fair to the book. However, I do think most readers of historicals and historical romance will be enchanted by the story. The dialogue is funny, reminiscent of true Regencies where the rules of Society are played for their ridiculousness. There is a steampunk flavor, but Ms. Carriger isn't bludgeoning her readers with the theme. Nice touches without losing focus on what the story is.

If you are looking for a light read, some romance, some thrills, Soulless will fit the bill. The next book, Changeless is out in May and I can't wait. And if you have a chance, go here and play with the Alexia Tarabotti paper doll.