Alexia Tarabotti, in Soulless, has several distinct disadvantages as a woman in Victorian England: 1) she is very intelligent and well read (a bluestocking – oh my); 2) she is very assertive and has not just opinions but very definite opinions; 3) she does not know or even recognize that she should have a “place” to which she should keep (seen and not heard); 4) she is of Italian descent, i.e., she is not a petite, pale English rose; and 5) she is an unmarried 25 year old (horrors, a spinster). Oh yes, and she has discovered that she has no soul. Big oops!
Soulless is Gail Carriger’s first novel and the first installment in The Parasol Protectorate series. It has to be one of the most fun books I’ve read in quite a while. Miss Tarabotti is a refreshing, wonderful fish out of water in her staid Victorian era, although she manages to deftly navigate its highly complex social pitfalls. I embraced her wholeheartedly with a “You go girlfriend” from Page 1, and then proceeded to laugh and cheer throughout the book at her antics and escapades. Being an uppity woman myself, I could definitely relate to her in so many ways. I can think of many times when I have wished I had the equivalent of her deadly parasol.
This is an alternative Victorian England populated with vampires, ghosts and werewolves who have been “out” to the English population for some time. They are both integral to and ancillary to the story, as odd as that may sound. Miss Tarabotti is the opposite of these supernatural beings. She is considered a preternatural being because she is soulless and being without a soul has a definite effect on the supernatural beings with whom she comes into contact. It’s one of those “buy the premise, buy the bit” situations that actually works in this book.
I could go on and on about her adventures but it would turn this review into a spoiler, and I have the definite opinion that I do not like spoilers. You’re just going to have to read it so you can meet her flighty sisters, her friend Tina with the horrific taste in hats, the flamboyant Lord Akeldama (“a vampire, like a lady, never reveals his true age”), the very Scottish Lord Maccon (who still smarts from that incident with the hedgehog) and all of the other characters who populate Miss Tarabotti’s world.
Bottom line: Soulless is a rollicking good time with a little steampunk mystery and adventure, a little romance, a little mad science and a lot of humor thrown in for good measure. If you’re looking for a fun read, you can’t go wrong here! I can’t wait to see what Miss Tarabotti gets into next in Changeless and Blameless!
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