Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring 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?

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A fun, lighthearted read that manages to make mortal danger and evil plots seem almost amusing. While the danger does indeed feel real, and one truly worries for the characters at times, the fact that they can still be concerned with things like whether or not a man's cravat it tied fashionably or not takes some of the tension out. Indeed, the constant detailed descriptions of what the characters are wearing and the oh-so-serious manner in which following the dictates of the current trends is regarded help to maintain an amusing tone throughout. It's as though the narrator is constantly poking fun at the characters, but at the same time is quite impressed by the dapper ones, as well as duly horrified by the unfashionable. It's almost a pity there weren't illustrations to go along with the descriptions of the couture.

Alexia is an interesting character who manages to be both highly intelligent and learned as well as astonishingly shallow by turns, and sometimes at the same time. A confirmed spinster at 26 who's been "on the shelf" since she was 15, she's gained quite the reputation as a bluestocking, and as an overly forthright woman who rarely hesitates to speak her mind, and quite ascerbically at that most times. She can hold her own in a conversation about the latest scientific advances, but at the same time she'll be conscious of what everyone around her is wearing and doing and will be just as scandalized as her decidedly shallow and dimwitted mother and half-sisters if she spots someone committing a fashion or social faux pas. She is able to keep her wits about her, and remain calm in a crisis, but will lament the state of her dress and the fact that her hair is all disarranged in the midst of it, even if only to herself. All-in-all, she is a force to be reckoned with, and woe to the person who is daft enough to annoy her with idiotic behavior or words, or who offends her fashionable sensibilities by wearing a poor quality coat or tying a cravat wrong.

Connal is very much the alpha male, expecting, and generally receiving, unquestioning obedience from all those who serve him both within his pack and within the government agency that he heads. He meets his match in Alexia, who remains quite unimpressed by his autocratic manner, but instead of getting all overbearing and trying to cow her into falling in with his ideas and plans, he takes it in his stride for the most part and pursues more subtle means of getting her to go along with what he wants. And sometimes not so subtle means, such as nibbling on her neck until she can't think straight. Of course often as not she'll argue with him, or at least try to, in the midst of the nibbling, though by and large he's usually successful with the tactic. And really, is it any wonder?

Striking a good balance between mystery/suspense story, paranormal/urban fantasy world and story, and romance, this book has something to appeal to many different readers. While I find most steampunk to be rather bizarre, the way it's handled in this book is both enjoyable and understandable. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone that enjoys lighthearted humor mixed with serious situations and a healthy dose of romance.

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