Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'Soulless'
Many apologies for the lack of reviewing; I've had so much required reading lately that I haven't been able to do much reading for myself!
The Book: Soulless (Book One of The Parasol Protectorate)
The Author: Gail Carriger
How I Found It: General browsing around the Internet led to me finding several enthusiastic reviews.
The Review: Alexia Tarabotti lives in Victorian era England, but it is a Victorian era very different from our own. Supernaturals walk the streets--vampires and werewolves are acknowledged and accepted by humans. Because humans have been studying supernaturals through science, technology has made great advances, and there are all sorts of mechanical inventions around. Alexia, however, might be the most fascinating thing in her world: she is a preternatural, called a soul-sucker by most vampires. She has no soul herself, whereas supernaturals in her world have an excess of soul. A touch from Alexia neutralizes supernatural powers for as long as the contact lasts.
Alexia lives the life of a spinster, her preternatural abilities known only to the BUR, a sort of FBI for supernaturals. Her quiet life is interrupted when she is rudely attacked by a hungry vampire at a ball. Strangely, though all vampires should know about preternaturals, this one seems genuinely surprised by her abilities, and when things get out of hand, Alexia kills him. This lands her in hot water with a BUR agent--Lord Maccon, an Alpha werewolf with whom Alexia has never been on great terms--and the local vampires.
It soon comes to light that loner vampires and werewolves are disappearing and being replaced with these new vampires who have no creator in sight and who have no concept of supernatural etiquette. Most troubling of all, Alexia is being hunted by a wax-faced man who seems impervious to harm... all while Alexia is developing an entirely unsuitable attraction to Lord Maccon, who seems to like her right back. What's a girl to do?
I have to say that it took me a bit to warm up to this book. I had heard rave reviews about its humor, romance, and innovative premise, but the humor felt a little too tongue-in-cheek for me at first, like the author was trying so hard to make every little thing funny. But it's impossible not to be amused by the opening scene: Alexia fending off her vampire attacker with a woodern hairpin and a brass parasol, eventually crashing into a table of treacle tart before killing him. I eventually came to enjoy the humor and laugh at it, and this was a very amusing, fluffy-but-still-science-fictiony book, and the most fun I've had reading a book of this genre in a while.
There were some great things about this book, things that I loved, but there were also some noticeable flaws that should have been edited or addressed further. I really liked the book overall, however, and will certainly be reading the rest of the series (two more books as of now, and two more in the future) as well as anything else Carriger sees fit to put out, as long as anything else she puts out is as fun as this one!
The Good: I love, love, loved the romance between Alexia and Lord Maccon. It defies all social convention and scandalizes quite a few people, but their scenes were so enjoyable and so incredibly sexy. The scene where they first kiss is going to stay with me for quite some time; it was funny and entertaining but also very passionate and hot. I also really enjoyed the supporting cast, particularly Professor Lyall, the Beta werewolf who keeps Lord Maccon in check, and especially Lord Akeldama, Alexia's gay vampire friend. Carriger is willing to poke some fun at the genre, and she acknowledges this when she introduces Akeldama (by pointing out his habit of emphasizing certain words over others, saying that he "seem[s] to speak primarily in italics"). Of all the witty dialogue in the novel, I especially enjoyed Lord Akeldama's; once this series comes to an end, I would be more than willing to see one focusing on him!
So while the characters, dialogue, and plot were all fun and engaging, I bring us to The Bad. These are things that could have been expanded upon or edited down, or things that just bugged me. None of them quite detracted from my enjoyment of the book, but they did leave me saying, "Well, I wish she'd done something with that..."
* It is mentioned early on that having no soul leads to Alexia not having both taste and morals. She learns about fashionable trends from what she sees around her and goes from there, yet, as one reviewer pointed out, she constantly critiques her friend Ivy's taste in hats and accessories. How does she know these things are ugly, if she has no concept of taste? I was especially intrigued by the idea that she has no morals and thus has to learn them from philosophy books. I thought that this could be an intriguing character; if she has no morals, one would think she'd be willing to take action and kill without compunction if someone were after her. Instead, however, she goes by the rules of proper decorum, and there's not too much action where she is the subject. Carriger's statement that Alexia had no taste or morals seemed to have been forgotten entirely after she said it, and I wanted to see that explored more--especially the part about her having no morals.
* There are fairly frequent POV shifts from one character to another from paragraph to paragraph, and Carriger vacillates between calling characters by their last names and first names. Both can be incredibly annoying. POV shifts in particular irritate me. Either this is a third-person limited narration where we see things only from Alexia's POV, or it is a third-person omniscient where we see everyone's thoughts. We should not be spending most of our time into Alexia's head and then BAM! in Lord Maccon's for a paragraph. No, it should not work that way. Also, the constant switching of what name a person is called by got to be tiring. That is something an editor should be taking care of and making more consistent.
* Some details definitely do get repetitive. By the time I was past the first third of the novel, I'd had enough of hearing that Alexia was an Italian spinster with dark skin, an unsightly nose, and a curvy body. I understand that Alexia has been told these things her whole life and made to believe them, but geez, I just wanted the narration to stop repeating them.
All of these things were, as I said before, minor flaws that can be attributed to it being a first novel and just something that needed a little bit more editing. The book itself was wonderful and fun, and I've already recommended it to people. The American Library Association named this as an adult book that young adult audiences can truly enjoy, and I completely agree: anyone fifteen or up who's into fantasy and the Victorian era should most definitely give this one a shot (just be warned about some steamy kisses, anatomical references, and, eventually, a sex scene). I really enjoyed this book and I'm looking forward to reading more by Carriger. Highly recommended to young adult and adult fans of steampunk and science fiction/fantasy.