I have a bad habit of hearing about a book that sounds interesting and adding it to my Amazon wishlist, so I’ll remember it later (I basically use Amazon as my notebook so I can then go buy the actual books at my local indie – yay Little Shop of Stories!). But then I add so many books that bunches get lost in the queue. So when Amazon sent me a notice that their Kindle deal of the week was Gail Carriger’s Soulless: The Parasol Protectorate, I thought, oh yeah, I think that’s on my wishlist, so I bought it.
Man, was I missing out in waiting so long! I LOVED this book. It’s a delightful mashup of historical romance with supernatural, and steampunk elements that never takes itself too seriously. I’m a huge fan of Julia Quinn’s Regency romance novels, especially the ones featuring the Bridgerton clan (that’s a post for another day). I get a huge kick out of the cultural elements that feature heavily into these stories – balls at Almack’s, carriage rides in Hyde Park, the match-making mamas and elaborate codes of behavior – and Soulless has all of these as well, just set a bit farther in the future. The great thing about Quinn’s novels and Soulless is what they do with those elements – they are there with a wink and a nod towards the modern women who are reading these books . The society balls, for example – the whole point of these balls, in these books, is for match-making. Characters either plunge in whole-heartedly or avoid the fracas at all costs, all while drinking lemonade and debating fashion. J’adore.
The main character in Soulless is a fabulous example of this. Alexia Tarabotti is 29, and thanks to Victorian ideals, is a spinster. She suffers from features and coloring inherited from an Italian father (gasp!), and from having a curious and intelligent nature in a family full of ninnies. She’s smart, strong and no nonsense, which you quickly learn in the book’s opening scene, where she is attacked by a very impolite vampire and is forced to kill him using her parasol and a wooden hair stick.
In this version of Victorian London, vampires, werewolves and ghosts are integrated into society, with their own social mores and interactions. Carriger also sets up her own creation story for vampires and werewolves (supernatural stories are much more interesting when they use a new twist on a supernatural world, aren’t they?). People’s souls have different weights, so people with an excess of soul are able to survive the transition into supernatural beings. How does Alexia fit into this? She is soulless, and preternaturals, as they are called, act on the supernatural in a very specific way – when a soulless person touches a vampire or werewolf, the supernatural becomes mortal again, as long as they remain in physical contact.
Of course, this sets the plot in motion. We meet Lord Connal Maccon, the Alpha werewolf of London, who is also in charge of BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry that keeps track and investigates supernatural doings in England. He is large, gruff, and, of course, both irritated and turned on by the forceful nature of Miss Tarabotti. Even though you see the romance coming from page one, like any good romance novel, it’s how the characters get there that is the main fun – plus, reading some really nice steamy scenes
This book has all the right touches: Victorian dialog, supernatural creatures, steampunk technology sprinkled lightly throughout, steamy sex, outrageous hats, and even more outrageous characters, all written with a fantastic sense of humor. I was giggling my whole way through the book, which I finished in about 3 hours. As soon as I finished it, I went to the Kindle store and discovered that in the years since I had added the book to my wishlist, Carriger wrote 3 more books in the series! I’m already a third of the way through the second book and it is just as delightful as Soulless. Huzzah!