Monday, September 10, 2012

Soulless – review

Author: Gail Carriger

First published: 2009

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

The review: I have had the first three books of “The parasol Protectorate” series on my ‘too read pile’ for some time, having picked them up at a publishers’ clearing house and this being the first book of the series, and actually I’m kind of kicking myself for not having read it sooner.

It is, I suppose, in the realm of urban fantasy, but then lifted and placed into a Victorian alternate steampunk universe. It is a world where the supernatural are well known, where they are accepted in Britain (for the most part) and hated in the US (the puritans having gone there to escape the supernaturals in the first place). As well as the great dollop of Vernian steampunk, there is a streak of social niceties as High Society in London follow very precise rules of etiquette. This lends the book a great deal of its humour.

What I loved about the book, however, was the premise behind the supernatural creatures. There are three main types, ghosts (tethered to a geographic radius from their body), werewolves (able to change at will, but becoming feral on the full moon) and vampires (territorial and mainly based around hives). All three come about – through whatever method is applicable – because the human they were had a surfeit of soul. Those with less soul will not survive the turning process.

Looking back to the blurb, you’ll see that the heroine, Alexia, is soulless. To ghosts she is known as an exorcist, to werewolves a curse-breaker and to vampires a soul-sucker. The polite term is preternatural and if she puts her hand on, say, a vampire then they become human and vulnerable again (for the length of the contact). Their fangs would vanish, they could stand in sunlight but anything that would kill a human would also kill them.

A fascinating lore basis and we begin to see a vampire society where the vampires are mostly in hives, though there are loner vampires called roves, and only queens are able to turn humans. Their helpers are known as drones and both vampires and werewolves tend to choose arty types as their human aids because they have more soul – on the other hand poor old Alexia, with no soul at all, struggles with the more arty concepts throughout the narrative.

Great fun, 7 out of 10.

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