The Parasol Protectorate? How cool is that for a series title?
Soulless, author Gail Carriger’s impressive debut and the first entry in that delightfully titled series, is almost equal parts comedy of manners, alternate reality, steampunk, paranormal, and romance. And, just to get it out of the way, the book is unmistakably heavy on the latter, so, if you need your HEA to be happy, you get it here.
Victorian spinster Alexia Tarabotti is a familiar character to romance readers: Forthright, prickly, saddled with a dim-witted and shallow family who doesn’t understand or value her, and in possession of nose that’s too long and skin that’s too dark for fashion, courtesy of her late Italian father. Since childhood her mother has relegated Alexia to spinsterhood, and, for the most part, it’s a role she’s comfortable playing. Sounds familiar, right?
But unlike those other characters we’ve come to know, Alexia lives in a different Victorian London. In her world, vampires and werewolves are accepted in society and, in true Victorian fashion, are also ruthlessly regulated with their very own dedicated civil service bureau (the Bureau of Unnatural Registry – or BUR) tasked with keeping them in line. The book’s title refers to Alexia’s unfortunate condition. In a world in which supernatural creatures are thought to come about due to an excess of soul, she is one of the rare ones born without any at all. Though everything this means to her is not entirely clear, the reader does learn that those who are soulless have the ability to be deadly to supernatural creatures.
The plot centers around Alexia and her longtime verbal sparring partner, Lord Maccon, an alpha werewolf and the head of BUR, attempting to discover just who (or what) is causing rogue vampires and werewolves to disappear. Just as disturbingly, dangerous baby vamps are appearing in their place -creatures who don’t even know (much less play by) the rigid rules that keep supernatural society and the human race coexisting in mutual tolerance.
The charms of the book lie in the author’s steampunk Victorian London (dirigible rides above the city are all the crack) and the detailed, but never info-dumpy way that she builds it; wickedly smart dialogue; highly likable primary characters and satisfying secondary ones; and a story that moves along nicely. All good. Really good.
It must be said, however, that the early chapters in which the author builds her world and introduces her hero and heroine, were a bit…well, more sparkling than the latter when a more utilitarian type of storytelling seems to take hold. But it’s still all good. Really good.
And, while it’s true that Alexia and her butt-headed alpha match are familiar character types, I, like many romance readers, like those types. And, hey, Alexia is a dab hand, indeed, with her trusty silver-tipped parasol and I can’t say I’ve come across that particular quality before.
So does Soulless live up to its oh-so-cool series title? You bet. So much so for me in fact that, as a testament to how much I enjoyed the book, I read it quickly, breaking (finally!) a weeks-long reading slump. And that is all good. Really good.