Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: Soulless

I'm a little late to extol the virtues of "Soulless", by Gail Carriger, given that she's already got something like three sequels published and is almost finished with a five-volume cycle of novels about protagonist Alexia Tarabotti (called "The Parasol Protectorate")...but it's just so damn refreshing these days to read a sci-fi fantasy novel that doesn't make me want to break out the red pen and edit the book into something readable that I feel like I have to tell people about it. "Soulless" is genuinely fun, a charming and light-hearted read that will leave you wanting to read passages out loud to random passers-by, and it's also an inventive spin on the oh-look-it's-werewolves-and-vampires-again genre, this time with a steampunk twist. (Everyone always does werewolves and vampires. Someday, I will write my novel about the ancient and epic rivalry between mummies and Frankenstein's monsters.)

The novel focuses, unsurprisingly for something that bills itself as "An Alexia Tarabotti novel", on Alexia Tarabotti, an outspoken Victorian woman who was born without a soul. This doesn't seem to inconvenience her ethics, emotions, or principles, but it does mean that she involuntarily renders any vampire or werewolf that touches her back into mortal form for as long as she holds onto them. This makes her a "person of interest" to the werewolves and vampires of London, who are entirely too civilized to eliminate her as a threat to their very existences, but definitely sensible enough to want to keep an eye on her. As such, she finds herself embroiled in intrigue, as well as in a romance with the Alpha of the London werewolf pack.

This romance is actually one of the best parts of the novel. It's charming in that "Jane Austen's 'Emma'" sort of way, but Gail Carriger is the kind of writer who very proudly and openly acknowledges that romance generally leads to sex. The characters in this novel are grown-ups, they have naughty bits, and they enjoy using them. I am a big fan of sex-positive attitudes in literature, I always feel like there are far too many writers who disdain talking about what their characters do in the bedroom (because who could possibly be interested in that?) and so a writer who not only writes sex scenes, but does them extremely well, is a rarity to be treasured.

Apart from that, though, the novel has plenty of humor, an interesting plot that draws you on, a lead character who is sensible and funny and independent, a guest appearance by Queen Victoria, and almost enough dirigibles. (According to the interview with the author at the end, the regrettable lack of actual dirigible travel will be rectified in the sequels.) I'd say more, but the horrid thing about good reviews is that you don't want to reveal too much. With a bad review, you want to explain every grim detail to warn the reader away, but a book like "Soulless" begs to be experienced rather than explained. So go read it. You'll enjoy it immensely.


Chris S said...

I've just bought 1-3 of the series and am enjoying them a great deal. Cheers for the heads-up! said...

Really worthwhile data, much thanks for your article.