Age/Genre: YA Steampunk Supernatural Fantasy
Preferred Reading Setting: Escape-the-World Bath
Reading Accessories/Accoutrements: Tea and biscuits
My sister bought this book for me for my birthday a few years ago. She saw it and thought of me, she said, for three reasons: 1. It is a supernatural fantasy/mystery book, and she knows how much I love those. 2. It takes place in a steampunk setting and I have been fascinated with steampunk since I heard of it. 3. She knew I was looking for a new series to read and this one comes with a follow-up series about the main characters’ daughter. Hours of entertainment for me and silence for her.
My sister knows me really well.
Victorian England high society is a whirlwind of the same families and individuals fighting to be as unique as possible. And in a world where humans, vampires, werewolves, and dirigibles all exist openly, Alexia Tarabotti is unique. A spinster of Italian descent, Alexia Tarabotti is Soulless. She can negate the power of every supernatural being she touches, which makes her life a delicate political balance.
Vampires and werewolves are fully integrated into society, serve as law enforcement, and even advise Queen Victoria herself. As a preternatural, Alexia is governed by the same laws as other supernaturals, but her abilities make her vampire and werewolf counterparts nervous. So, when she accidentally kills a vampire at a ball, Queen Victoria sends a werewolf to investigate.
But vampires are disappearing all over England, and everyone seems to be blaming Alexia. She must figure out what is happening to London’s high society before the vampires take matters into their own hands.
I first picked up Soulless because I was intrigued by the concept of steampunk fantasy; you mean to tell me that an author managed to combine a heavily industrialized and science-favorable Victorian England with blood-sucking and flesh-eating beings who have somehow gained supernatural strength, speed, and senses by almost dying? By all means, let’s see how that could be accomplished.
And Gail Carriger delivered: Soulless puts a new spin on the idea of vampires and werewolves because it provides a theoretical answer for the question, “If vampires and werewolves are completely soulless and you lose your soul when you die, why doesn’t everyone who is bitten by a vampire or werewolf survive?” In this iteration, scientists theorize that only those people born with an excess of soul can survive the transformation to supernatural being. And, if there can be people with an excess of soul, there can certainly be those without any soul at all. It provides a pleasing sort of symmetry to the sometimes-chaotic idea of a steampunk fantasy world.
Enter: Alexia. Descended from – though not raised by – a line of Italian preternaturals, Alexia negates the power of vampires and werewolves by temporarily neutralizing their excess soul. While she touches them, vampires and werewolves are entirely human and, therefore, easier to kill. Simply by existing, she is a threat to all supernatural beings -therein lies the conflict.
Character-wise, Alexia is…hard to like. She has no soul, after all, and that is an interesting challenge for any author. Gail Carriger seems to have risen to the task, providing enough human emotion that Alexia is not entirely robotic. Alexia has a need for order and good tea and she is not as soft-spoken as most Victorian English girls you’ve read about. She doesn’t precisely understand the rules and protocols of society, but she follows them so long as they are of use to her.
The other characters are similarly symmetrical. The vampires enjoy and even revel in the frivolity of high-society rules while the werewolves put up with the rules while out in public simply because they must. Vampires connive and back-stab when necessary while the werewolves are loyal to their word.
I’m beginning to think Ms. Carriger was Team Jacob…
In any case, Soulless is worth a read. Steampunk Victorian England is an intriguing backdrop for any story, in my opinion. But add werewolves, vampires, and other beings that add a sort of symmetry to the idea of the supernatural, and you have me hooked.