Soulless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate Series)

Gail Carriger’s ‘about the author’ blurb on the back of Soulless includes this little snippet:

She now resides in the Colonies with a harem of Armenian lovers and tea imported from London.

She had me at harem.  But I was also interested to read about a Victorian heroine who came armed with a parasol, a story with steampunk sensibilities, and a new take on the formulaic supernatural world of vampires, werewolves, and other creatures that go bump in the night.

Alexia Tarabotti has no soul.  She also has no marriage prospects as she’s been put ‘on the shelf’ and is a self-identified spinster at 26.  Her Italian looks are far from the angelic, blond-haired, blue-eyed English rose ideal.  And then she kills a vampire with her hair pin and trusty parasol!  The gorgeous werewolf, Lord Maccon, is called in to investigate and quickly uncovers the disappearance of many loner werewolves and vampires.  Together, Lord Maccon and Alexia vow to discover the truth of the missing ‘persons’ only to find themselves in lust and danger.  How will they survive mutual enemies and each other?

I’m still on the fence about this book.  Having such high hopes definitely affected my reading.  Alexia is a clever protagonist – she’s bright, sharp-tongued, strong-willed, and definitely not the stereotypical heroine which was great.  Carriger writes with a saucy British humor that began as a plus, but ended up grating on my nerves.  Her wit began to feel slightly self-indulgent like a mere plot device.  And the love story turned into nothing but a bodice ripper – the type of novel I pledged to stay away from in high school.  I felt a bit mislead by this being shelved in the paranormal fantasy/steampunk section of my local bookstore because this reads like a harlequin romance with a bunch of steamy sex scenes meant to compensate for a romantic relationship lacking in any romance or emotional depth.

The biggest issue I had was Carriger’s need to harp on Alexia’s physical appearance at least once every ten pages or so.  How many times do we need to be reminded of her dark hair, her long nose, her tan skin and all the other Italian characteristics she’s had the unfortunate disgrace of inheriting from her father?  I get that it affects her societal standing – but show us, don’t tell us!  Seemed like a rookie mistake that a decent editor should have fixed – just my opinion.  Perhaps the remaining novels in the series overcome this pitfall.

Not to be a complete debbie downer, the book has its high points.  Like I mentioned, Alexia breaks the mold of weak damsel in distress types and the other characters are often quirky, colorful, and unique in a genre world filled with cookie cutter mimes.  My favorite being the lovable Lord Akeldama, the flamboyantly stylish loner vampire, who lives with a harem of ‘dandies’.  And when the novel throws its characters in harm’s way the action is non-stop, fast-paced, and a fun romp.

Carriger also has a knack for writing delightfully unsettling images such as:

The vampires all laughed uproariously at that.  It was creepy in its lack of decorum.

or this:

Mrs. Loontwill, whose curiosity was chomping at the perverbial bit, burst into the room.  Only to find her eldest daughter entwined on the couch with Lord Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, behind a table decorated with the carcasses of three dead chickens.

At the end of the day, I think this novel is relatively enjoyable if you kind of squint when reading – doing your best to just enjoy the audacity and precociousness of the book’s characters and their shenanigans.  I haven’t made up my mind on whether I’ll continue the series.  If I do, I might try it on audio because I have a feeling I’d have appreciated the story a bit more in that format.  And just so you know – this series is extraordinarily popular, people adore it.  So give it a try if you think it could be your thing!

4 thoughts on “Soulless by Gail Carriger (The Parasol Protectorate Series)

  1. I have this book, and have not made the time for it yet. I have read reviews all over the board on this one, and wonder what my reactions to it would be. It’s been a long time since I have read a bodice ripper, and I can’t say that I miss them all that much, but something about the supernatural elements in this book entices me. Great review today!

    • Definitely give it a go at some point as I’d love to hear your thoughts! The supernatural bits are well done and not over played.

  2. Great review. When I described this book to my wife, she said the plot was traditional romance, straight up — and that was a turn off for her. I got quite swept up in this one, but have been so disappointed by the next two (I loathed book 2), and I don’t think I’m likely to read books 4 and 5. :/ If you do pick up the next one, I hope you’ll share your thoughts.

    • I’ve heard that book 2 has quite the cliffhanger ending – and not in a good way. I think I’ll definitely give book 2 a try on audio in the near future and see how I like it. I do want so desperately to like these books, not sure why.

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