Soulless by Gail Carriger

Possessing a practical and curious nature, Alexia Tarabotti has come to accept her faults as the natural cause of her spinsterhood: she's not noticeably pretty (unlike her silly two half-sisters), her deceased father happens to have been Italian (practically unforgivable), and she doesn't have a soul (though of course that isn't widely known). This last point however begins to sway in her favor when she is unexpectedly attacked by a vampire, in a library of all places, without even first asking her pardon - or permission for that matter. As a preternatural however, Alexia's lack of soul allows her to negate any supernatural - vampire or werewolf alike - with only a touch. Handy that. Allowing her to escape becoming a vampire's dinner but resulting in the loss of her tea and having to answer to the gruff Lord Maccon - the local alpha werewolf under the direction of the Queen - who is less than pleased with Alexia's intervention. These two stubborn and...(cough, cough)...outspoken personalities have clashed before and this latest meeting doesn't bode too well for their future either. What follows is a give and take comedy/mystery wherein Lord Maccon gives Alexia advice, usually unsolicited, and she studiously ignores him. Often resulting in less than pleasant results for Alexia.

I was pleased to find Soulless as intriguing and different as its unique cover. Ask the hubby, I have gushed who knows how many times over that dress, that sway back - I adore it all; so that's saying a lot. The language was also a winner - Alexia practically leaps off the page from the very beginning. The following scene takes place at the outset of the book just after she has successfully deflected the vampire's attack and its got a little of everything that I enjoyed about this book:
She decided to waltz directly out of the library without anyone the wiser to her presence there. This would have resulted in the loss of her best hair stick and her well-deserved tea, as well as a good deal of drama. Unfortunately, a small group of young dandies came traipsing in at that precise moment. What young men of such dress were doing in a library was anyone's guess. Alexia felt the most likely explanation was that they had become lost while looking for the card room. Regardless, their presence forced her to pretend that she, too, had just discovered the dead vampire. With a resigned shrug, she screamed and collapsed into a faint.

She stayed resolutely fainted, despite the liberal application of smelling salts, which made her eyes water most tremendously, a cramp in the back of one knee, and the fact that her new ball gown was getting most awfully wrinkled. All its many layers of green trim, picked to the height of fashion in lightening shades to complement the cuirasse bodice, were being crushed into oblivion under her weight. The expected noises ensued: a good deal of yelling, much bustling about, and several loud clatters as one of the housemaids cleared away the fallen tea.

Then came the sound she had half anticipated, half dreaded. An authoritative voice cleared the library of both young dandies and all other interested parties who had flowed into the room upon discovery of the tableau. The voice instructed everyone to "get out!" while he "gained the particulars from the young lady" in tones that brooked no refusal.

Silence descended.

"Mark my words, I will use something much, much stronger than smelling salts," came a growl in Miss Tarabotti's left ear. The voice was low and tinged with a hint of Scotland. It would have caused Alexia to shiver and think primal monkey thoughts about moons and running far and fast, if she'd had a soul. Instead it caused her to sigh in exasperation and sit up.
It's hard to exactly put my finger on why I enjoyed this book so much (besides the "primal monkey thoughts" line) - like Gail Carriger says herself it's a little Victorian era, paranormal, mystery, romance, and a little steampunk thrown in for good measure. Even though the steampunk aspects were a bit of an afterthought, I believe it was the concept of Alexia herself that drew me the most. The fact that she is one of the only soulless individuals in England leaves her adventures wide open as she draws not only the attention of the local supernatural community, but the Queen herself. Being a self-professed bluestocking who would much rather spend her time with books and a cup of tea than with her two flighty sisters, Alexia can be exasperating to those who aren't themselves firmly grounded in intellectualism and practicality. Understandable. But still she's witty, knows what she wants, and above all, is very, very fun. The ending was a bit over the top since the focus had shifted a bit from Alexia's independent misadventures to her relationship with Lord Maccon - a bit too sweet for my tastes, but I've got high hopes for the duo's return in Changeless, the Parasol Protectorate book two due out March 2010.

series reading order:
~ Soulless
~ Changeless (March 2010)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review
The Book Smugglers review
Dear Author review
The Hiding Spot review
Popin's Lair review
Pure Imagination review

book source: borrowed from a friend


Alyssa Kirk said...

Glad to hear this is so good. I love urban fantasy and can't get enough! Great review. I liked how you put in the snippet!

Michelle said...

Alyssa - it was fun! I'm also a huge fan of urban fantasy so this one being set in the Victorian era was extra goodness!!