Book review: 2011.01
Gail Carriger's series came to my attention via Mighty Mur Lafferty's podcast (I Should Be Writing), I think. My wife gave them to me for Christmas last year, and they've been a delightful gift.
To be honest, I'm not sure why I liked Soulless as much as I did. It's Victorian era fantasy with a thick layer of steampunk frosting. This is good, I like both of those things. It also has vampires, werewolves, and ghosts openly existing in society among normal humans, and I don't like that. Monsters are supposed to be just that – monsters. They belong in the dark. But in this series, they are an integral part of society and Carriger has created a strong world where these 'monsters' are strongly integrated into the culture, society, and history. The setting is internally consistent, and crafted well, so I was able to forgive the things I don't usually like.
The main character, Alexia Tarabotti, is loveable because she's a misfit within Victorian society. Tall, dark complected, with a non-dainty nose and full figure, she's practically a pariah, especially compared to her mother and two step-sisters. Add to this an inquisitive mind and she's clearly doomed as a potential wife.
But Alexia has a secret. She doesn't have a soul, which really isn't as terrible as it sounds.
The author alludes that it's Alexia's soullessness that is likely the cause of her heroic nature. Soulless people are a rare species, called preternaturals, who are juxtaposed with the supernatural caste of vampires, werewolves, and ghosts. And preternaturals were historically the nemeses of the monsters. They were the monster hunters. And this puts Alexia at odds with the supernatural community.
More than the setting, which as I said, is very logical and internally consistent, it's the characters that I like. Carriger populates this silly setting with some fun characters and each one is a person unto themselves. Personally, I really want to see more of the Scarlet Pimpernellian Lord Akeldama and his cadre of spies…please Gail!
In truth, the story is as much a romance story as it is scifi/fantasy, and Carriger handles her stuff well in both courts. She does a masterful job of handling character relationships and interactions, especially the friendly ones. The characters are fun and their interactions are realistic. Characters put as much importance on society, appearance, and etiquette as they do the story at hand, and most characters have their own perspectives on the world around them. Their own motivations guide their actions, whether that is spying on the vampire hives or finding right hat or cravat for the day's activities.
The book is full of humor, full of adventure, and definitely a fun read. If Kim Harrison and Jane Austin got together to write a book, it might come close to this. My defining keywords for this book are: character, steampunk, adventure, humor, espionage, and romance; in that order.
As I'm writing this, I've nearly finished the second book in the series, Changeless. Alexia's Cinderella story has come true and this book finds the city embroiled in a panic as the supernatural denizens of London are rendered completely mortal for a day. Alexia is on the case trying to figure out the cause of this calamity.
This novel further develops the history of Carriger's setting, expanding what we know about the roles the supernatural elements have played in the past. We get more clues about Alexia's father and the nature of their species, the preternaturals. And the author treats us with some delightful new characters, including a cross-dressing, counter-culture mad scientist and a pack of Scottish werewolves. Steampunk elements feature very strongly in this story as well. Thus far, there are still no zombies, but I'm holding out hope for the third book on that note.
Changeless does everything a second-book should and it's been a fun read. I'm only about fifty pages from the end and plots are starting to be resolved, thanks to the unladylike willfulness of our heroic main character. Again, thanks to my wife, the third book is on my book shelf, and I just discovered that the fourth will be out soon. I'm looking forward to both!