Soulless by Gail Carriger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It's been a very long time since I have stayed up to finish a book. Probably the last time it happened was with the final Harry Potter installment, and before that, in my teens, it was probably a John Grisham novel, and most likely The Pelican Brief. That being said, it's just turned 2 am and I've just finished Soulless, and was delighted the entire way through.
I've put myself through a rigorous year of reading, so far, not in the number of books but in the kinds of books that I've chosen to pick up. Engrossed in lengthy series books, like A Dance With Dragons, and serious novels like Cloud Atlas, I needed a brain reset, and badly. I needed something quick and fun, and the first of the Parasol Protectorate was just that.
The heroine, one Miss Alexia Tarabotti, is a mischievous, intelligent, strong-willed character, much in the vein of Lizzie Bennett and Jo March, and as often as possible, refuses to take "no" or "you can't" as an answer. She is set in a re-imagined world of the 19th century, where science-fiction has trumped the fiction part and Hyde Park is filled with dirigible balloon rides and steam-powered carriages. The bustle of Victorian gowns can still be heard (and seen) but "supernaturals" (vampire, werewolves, ghosts) are common knowledge and have acclimated to society, as much as acclimation is possible. Part romance, part mystery, the story unfolds with easy, steady momentum and never lacks for interesting phrasing, or straight up fun use of vocabulary.
When reading about the author at the end, it's unsurprising that one of her first influences listed is Jane Austen. Soulless reads like a steampunk reimagning of Pride and Prejudice, and, I have to say, the brooding, mysterious werewolf Lord Conall Maccon is what I would imagine the perfect supernatural hybrid of Mr. Rochester and Mr. Darcy would be, except furrier. Alexia's family, her nerve-prone mama, shallow sisters, and unconcerned stepfather, are all caricatures of characters from novels most of us have already read, but for some reason, with this book, that familiarity is satirical, and results in more of an appreciation for a nod & a wink at the style than an anger at unoriginality. In fact, the entire book is filled with such flamboyant names and ideas, that it's difficult to do anything but simply sit back and enjoy.
I couldn't give it more than three stars, because essentially, the story is fluff. It's the literary equivalent of that 55-second roller coaster ride. You pretty much know what you're going to get, but you still enjoy the 360 degree loops and sharp drops all the same. It's not challenging, but it's so much fun that it almost negates any sort of criticism that could be put upon it. Essentially, it just made me want to sit down and have tea with the author (Gail Carriger), Alexia Tarabotti, and Lizzie Bennett and gossip about the world the way that only intelligent, colorful, interesting, albeit females, can. Bring on the scones and the next in the series!
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