Saturday, January 02, 2010

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless wasn't quite the book I hoped it would be, and I nearly put it down several times. Still, I did finish it, which is a good sign -- though I did so in part because I wanted to confirm for myself that it's really more of an romance novel than a fantasy.

(No judgment is made or implied there, and "more" is important -- no book is a Platonic anything, but contains different mixtures of various things. Still, every book is mostly something, and Soulless is mostly a romance.)

Soulless was published by Orbit (the US branch), with genre markers aiming it towards steampunk, mannerpunk, and an elevated type of historical urban fantasy. It is all of those things, more or less -- it's set in an alternate-historical late Victorian era, with the inevitable dirigibles to signpost that it is an alternate history, in London, in a society that has come to terms with the existence of vampires and werewolves. But the central plot of Soulless is not about solving a crime, or about saving the realm, or foiling a fiendish plot -- though all of those elements are present. No, at its core, Soulless is the story of how Alexia Tarabotti finds love and proves -- though the various travails enumerated above -- that she is worthy of that love (and vice versa).

Along the way, Soulless is quite witty and entertaining, but the central focus always remains on Alexia's budding love relationship. (Yes, she is a spinster -- utterly unmarriageable, as her relations insist -- and also handicapped, or enhanced, but not having the least bit of soul, but these are fairly typical problems that a romance heroine has to deal with. If winning the love of her life were easy, it wouldn't have required a whole novel to make it happen.) And it turns out that I'm not the kind of reader who enjoys that plot all that much; I kept wishing that Carriger would get back to the things that I considered more interesting about Soulless, such as the political and social details of vampires and werewolves (and hoping that she would make those details a bit more specific and grounded than they appeared to be).

Alexia also becomes alarmingly special as the book goes on, which is not necessarily a good sign in the first book of what may become a longer series. Typically, a heroine does not become this special until book three or four of an urban fantasy series at the earliest -- but, perhaps, specialness descends more quickly in paranormal romance (where I suspect Soulless would fit somewhat more closely).

Again, Soulless is quite entertaining and funny all the way through; Alexia is a charming main character -- though, as usual, given to the semi-anachronistic outbursts of modern feminism that readers today demand of their quasi-historical heroines -- whom the reader will root for and engage with from the first chapter. It's just not the book that it was packaged as, precisely, which mildly vexed me.


RobB said...

Finally, somebody who had a similar reaction to the book as I did. Most reviews have praised this one and I just didn't get it.

Like you, I was expecting a bit more of the mystery, steampunkishness, and a lot less of the romance.

I nearly gave up on it as well, but persevered. I found Alexia just to get more annoying and prattling as the book progressed.

Unknown said...

Yes, this falls more into the paranormal romance category. Not bad, entertaining enough, just not exactly my cup of tea. The next one, CHANGELESS, is due in March.

Anonymous said...

I read this while travelling over the holidays. I completely agree--I wanted something with more 'bite'. I also had problems with the character. She keep talking about how she goes her own and is fine with that, but then suddenly drops into "I'm not worthy!" I wanted more of an Amelia Peabody Emerson (Elizabeth Peters's character).


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