Soulless, by Gail Carriger, is a fun vampire/werewolf/steampunk romp. Well done, Miss Carriger; might we have some more treacle tart?
Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) is the first in a new series, and hooray! it’s a lot of fun from the very first page. It turns some of the conventions of vampiric literature all topsy-turvy, and it’s set in Victorian England, with all the attention to society gamesmanship, well-crafted fashions, and steam-powered gadgetry that such a setting entails.
Miss Alexia Tarabotti is my favorite kind of heroine; she’s not conventionally (or tediously) pretty, she has a mind of her own and speaks it, and she’s got a chip on her shoulder when it comes to her complete soullessness. As it turns out, she’s impervious to supernatural attacks and in fact can neutralize a vampire or werewolf simply by touching them, and is a registered preternatural. Intriguingly, she’s found it necessary to arm herself with a parasol of some heft, as it’s the only socially acceptable weapon-like object a young, healthy woman could have with her in public. She must have some interesting social interactions after dark to warrant arming herself.
She may lack a soul, and therefore natural morality, but she’s substituted a code of her own, taken from her wide reading. Although she’s attractive in some ways, she’s been told all her life that she’ll never be “on the market” for marriage, and is thus both “on the shelf” and a spinster, who has nothing to do but chaperone her younger step-sisters to society events and balls.
It’s at one of these balls that she encounters a rather stupid and badly informed vampire, and she is quickly caught up in a world of supernatural intrigue after her improvised defense with a sharpened wooden hair-stick puts paid to the hapless creature’s shabby account. And all because she was in search of tea, and a treacle tart, in the library – but scandal is averted when agents of Her Majesty’s Bureau of Unnatural Registry arrive to sort it all out. She admits eventually to one of these operatives, a rather grumpy werewolf with political connections, that she would simply like something useful to do.
An interesting aspect of the book is that vampires and werewolves are an accepted part of society, with very strict rules of decorum. Less appetizing aspects of their kind’s behavior are normally handled with discretion; werewolves don’t transform in full view of normal humans, and vampires may resort to a kind of sanguinary prostitution rather than simply attack strangers on the street without a proper introduction.
The dialogue crackles, and the story cracks on; I’ll be finished later tonight, darn it!
The next book in the series will be coming out soon – Changeless – but beware that there could be spoilers in the cover art and blurb for the first book if you click through to the link.
It can’t come out soon enough, if you ask me.