Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Book review: Soulless

Today's book review is Soulless by Gail Carriger.

This appears to be the first book in a new series.  It is a good start and tells a good story.

This book is a Victorian comedy of manners, which would normally be less interesting reading to me than an old phone book.  But it's an alternate Victorian era with vampires and werewolves, which is already promising.  The world is pretty much as plausible as most modern fantasy.  It's mostly standard stuff, but with one kind of interesting new element.  The main thing about it, though, is that it's funny.  Silly, snarky descriptions of the bizarre behavior of aristocrats combined with the bizarre behavior of vampires and werewolves had me grinning almost the whole time and actively chuckling frequently.  The plot is a little thin, but there's quite enough silliness to sustain me.

9 out of 10.


The key gimmick in this world is that different people have different amounts of soul.  People who have a lot of soul can become vampires or werewolves; people who have less will die if they are bitten.  And there are a few rare individuals who have no soul at all.  These soulless suppress supernatural powers with a touch.  Miss Alexia Tarabotti is one.  At the beginning of the story, we're told that this means that she doesn't have a conscience so she has to carefully learn how to behave -- but although she seems to be a little odd, she doesn't really appear to be a sociopath.  She is, however, a trial to her mother and sisters, because she insists on having a brain, which is quite inappropriate for a Victorian lady.  Alexia is at a ball, which she finds quite unsatisfactory because she's not really interested in the people, they're not interested in her, and there is no food.  So she goes off into the library and orders food from the butler, when she is unexpectedly set upon by a vampire, whom she stakes with a hair stick.  She quickly has to deal with Lord Maccon, who is the local alpha werewolf and the head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, the branch of Her Majesty's Government in charge of vampires, werewolves, and things that go bump in the night.  Alexia and Lord Maccon cordially detest each other, ever since some incident in the past, frequently alluded to but never actually explained, where Alexia made Maccon sit on a hedgehog.  Things start to become more interesting as Alexia is summoned to a meeting with the vampire queen.  It seems that historically, the soulless have been van Helsing type vampire hunters.  The werewolves are slightly uneasy about her, but the vampires really hate and fear her.  Alexia consults with her one vampire friend, Lord Akeldama, a flamboyant homosexual whose clothing is the scariest thing I've read in a long time.  He advises her to avoid the meeting, but she's socially obligated, so he tells her to be careful.  The meeting is tense, but Alexia manages to learn that the queen is worried.  This new vampire was not one of hers, and she doesn't know where it came from.  At the same time, lone ("rove") vampires are disappearing.  At the same time, the BUR werewolves are learning that lone werewolves are disappearing.  Alexia is almost kidnapped by a mysterious waxy looking man.  When she is rescued by Maccon, he ends up unexpectedly kissing her.  This starts a romantic pursuit that is made entertaining because Maccon is trying to use werewolf social rules, which Alexia doesn't know; Alexia thinks he's snubbing her because he regrets the kiss and wants to forget about it entirely.  Alexia takes up with an American scientist who is researching supernaturals.  She's interested in his work, but not enough to tip him off that he's barking up the wrong tree because he doesn't know about the soulless.  We dance around in several amusing ways until the night of the full moon.  There is a human ball that Alexia's mother forbids her attending due to her misbehavior.  So she goes to spend the evening with Akeldama instead, which has her present when the wax man comes and kidnaps Akeldama and her.  They are taken to the evil mad scientists' secret lair.  At the same time, another bunch of scientists had kidnapped the werewolf pack.  The head scientist tries to convince Alexia to join his cause, but she isn't buying.  He throws her into a cell with the moon-crazed Maccon.  When she manages to touch him, he turns human and stops ravening, and we have an amusing interlude where she, fully clothed, has to cuddle him, now naked, because if she stops touching him he'll turn back into a mindless wolf.  The scientists drag her back to the lab.  Maccon breaks loose, follows her, and kills most of the bad guys.  They kill the golem by erasing the magic word on its forehead and round up the bad guys.  Alexia is having a very difficult time explaining things to her mother, when the Queen drops by for a visit, endorses the marriage (which, now that Alexia has decided that Maccon actually wants to marry her, and isn't just being forced to because he had put her in a compromising position, she is in favor of), and offers her the job of muhjah.  It's supposed to be the third position on the Shadow Council, balancing the vampire potentate and the werewolf dewan, but the post has been vacant due to the rarity of soulless.  Alexia and Maccon are married in a major social event and get set to live happily ever after, but there's another book coming, so life should continue to be interesting.
Tags: book review, fantasy, gail carriger
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