Tuesday, 23 February 2010

DIK Challenge Review - Soulless by Gail Carriger

I'm on something of a role with my DIK picks. My February choice is Soulless by Gail Carriger one of Katiebabs picks (and I think also recommended by Renee). Soulless is the first in the Parasol Protectorate series and begins the story of Alexia Tarrabotti. Alexia lives in an almost Steampunkian version of Victorian England, where vampires and werewolves are an accepted part of society. Alexia, herself, is a preternatural, her touch renders both vampires and werewolves human, but only while she maintains contact with them. However, not everyone is happy with the integration of human and supernatural in society and when vampires and werewolves start to disappear, Alexia finds herself in the middle of a very dangerous situation.

(Just a little aside. If I have a problem with the book it's that Alexia is described as soulless. This is how the Victorians have explained the existence of supernatural and preternatural. An excess of soul allows an individual to survive the transformation into vampire or werewolf, whilst an absence of soul allows the individual to nullify the supernatural aspects of other characters. I guess it's the idea that a good person doesn't have a soul - it's one of my bugbears. I didn't like it when Freds soul was destroyed when Illyria took over her body on Angel. So for my own purposes I think of Alexia as being a null, and that her soullessness is simply a 'Victorian' explanation, kind of like them saying an excess of bile causes flatulence.*)

Anyway, on with the review. I kind of imagine that if Jane Austen were alive today and writing Urban Fantasy that what she would come up with wouldn't be a million miles away from Soulless. The point of view is omniscient mainly focalized through Alexia - I think, grammar isn't my strong point, but I can tell you that it isn't a traditional third person point of view. I think for some people this may take a little getting used to, but you just have to go with it. For one thing, the slight distance it initially gives you as a reader really helps with the Victorian setting. You get to know the characters through observation rather than immediately being plunged into their heads.

This is a book peopled with delightful characters, Alexia, Lord Maccon (werewolf), Lord Akeldama (vampire), Ivy (Alexia's friend), Professor Lyall (Lord Maccon's beta) and Alexia's less than perfect family.

What I perhaps most enjoyed about the story was the developing romance between Alexia and Lord Maccon, their history together involves a nasty incident with a hedgehog. You don't expect 'Bollocks!' to be the first word the hero utters on seeing the heroine. That's one of the things that makes this story so refreshingly different. Alexia and Lord Maccon do not have what could be considered a traditional courtship, that would be impossible given what they are, but it's clear from the outset that there is a chemistry between them and that even though they may not realize it at first, they each care for the other. (Though it is somewhat up to the brilliant Professor Lyall to explain to Alexia that Lord Maccon is a werewolf, and to explain to Lord Maccon that Alexia is not (a werewolf), and that he should refine his courtship techniques accordingly).

Lord Maccon can be blunt.
"You are about as covert as a sledgehammer."
and may not always know exactly the right thing to say or the right way in which to say it.
"I have spent a good deal of time and energy during the course of our association trying not to like you," he admitted finally...
"And yet I find not liking you comparitively easy, especially when you say things such as that!"
But in the end he gets it completely right.
...he touched the side of her face..."I understand that you have been taught for far too long that you are unworthy."
The relationship is just one part of this story. And I think the reason it works so well is because it is set against the backdrop of an incredibly well-realized world. There is a depth and believability to the story. Alexia doesn't exist in a vacuum, she has friends, family, there's a whole social minefield that she has to walk through. As well as humans, she also has to deal with vampires and werewolves, who each have their own etiquette and sensibilities that can be offended.

There are little touches throughout which may not add that much on their own but together they make the story so rich. For example Alexia wears two hairpins - one of silver and one of wood - it's these details which lift the story. Gail Carriger also keeps her fingers on the plot points - she doesn't forget about the octopuses (if you read the story that will make sense :))

To some extent the denouement does rely on the convenience of the bad guys being gullible. But that's something I can easily overlook when the rest of the story is so well told. I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment in The Parasol Protectorate series and I highly recommend Soulless.

* - completely made up Victorian saying there.


Nicole said...

Sounds like a good book - I'll have to check it out! Thanks for the rec!

Darlynne said...

I loved this book, too, and only began reading it because of reviews that were so favorable. More than anything, I like to be surprised and that doesn't happen very often. These characters, however, were fresh and interesting, and I am really eager for the next book.

Renee said...

Oh, so glad you enjoyed it! It was such a fun read. I remember I kept finding myself smiling while reading it.
You are right about her being a null! When I heard the explanation about her "soulless" status, that's how I interpreted it, and kept inserting "null" for "soulless" when I'd come across it.
I was just looking at the DIK list this morning and picked out my challenge book. It looks like I'm going to read Demon Angel for Feb.

Tracy said...

I have to tell you that I really had no interest in this book until now. Even after reading reviews it didn't pique my interest. But the way you've described the book has grabbed me, I must say. I think I might add this to my DIK reading challenge list. :) Thanks.

And I know it's been forever since I blog hopped so you probably changed your format like a year ago but I really like it. :)

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

I loved this book like you wouldn't believe even with the overall silliness of it all. Lord Maccon was such a blowhard that when he fell for Alexia, I couldn't help but cheer and think, you got yours buddy.

Nice review :)

Angiegirl said...

Lovely review, Lesley. I thought this was a perfectly delightful read and, like you, am looking forward to the next installment.

Sarai said...

OMG seriously what are the odds? I am reading that one right now in hopes of posting Sunday for DIK review.
Huh I will come back and read your reveiw when I finish.

D.L. said...

I've heard a lot of good things about this book (especially that it's a well-realized world). Sounds really interesting- great review!

LesleyW said...

Nicole - You're welcome.

Darlynne - I was kind of getting a little down on the whole UF genre because it seemed to be getting so samey. But this book has let me see that there are still fresh angles out there.

Renee - I didn't think I'd be alone on the null thing. Looking forward to your review. :)

LesleyW said...

Tracy - I only changed the format a few weeks ago. :) And yay! successful pimpage, hope you like it.

Katiebabs - Thank you. :)

Angiegirl - Thank you.

Sarai - Yay! Looking forward to your review.