My rating: 2 of 5 stars
At the end of “Soulless” first time author Gail Carriger says that one of her inspirations for the story was the idea of what if you set an urban fantasy during Victorian times. Given the quirks of the society, it’s a fascinating concept and that hook alone is enough to make me want to like “Soulless.”
Unfortunately, the novel is too much a product of the current publishing climate in which a majority of the books hitting the market must have vampires, werewolves or (as is the case here) both. I’ll give Carriger credit that her vampires are genuinely evil, scary and frightening and not misunderstood, sparkling creatures of the night. And her long-standing conflict between the two sides is a lot better realizes than the invented for the sake of creating romantic tension conflict that we have in a certain other bestselling series that shall not be named.
But there were times reading “Soulless” that I felt as if this book was being tragically mis-marketed. The cover proclaims it a novel of “vampires, werewolves and parasols” and the character of Alexia Tarabotti, a woman born without a soul who is able to negate the supernatural powers of various creatures she encounters, is an intriguing one. But there are moments in the story that I wanted to throw the book aside and scream with frustration–most of them concerning Miss Tarabotti’s interactions with a certain Lord Macon, who just happens to be the head of the werewolves. The novel spends a lot of time focused on the etiquette of the times and their forbidden romance. It’s straddling a lot of conventions–not only steam punk, but also Victorian romance and urban fantasy. The problem is that the transitions are rarely seamless, leading to the novel seeming disjointed and coming to an abrupt halt at various points during the narrative.
Alexia spends a lot of time reflecting on her status–not only as soulless but also as a perceived old maid (at the age of 26!)–as well as the romantic entanglement with Macon and doting on food. It’s the scenes with Macon where the novel grinds to a complete halt, becoming a romance novel, complete with pages on end about kissing, weakness in the knees and warming of the nether regions. All well and good if it went on for a paragraph or two, but when it ends up taking place over three or four pages and then being ruminated about for the next several more, it serves only to bring the story screeching to a massive halt.
It also serves to rob any and all momentum the story builds up in the early pages as Alexia kills a vampire at a party after being attacked. It robs the storyline of vampires, werewolves and how they are organized in such a time and the implications of the ability to turn humans into vampires without the usual process of its drive and depth. It would be more interesting if we spent more time developing Miss Taraboti into a character who is more than just the definition her society places on her.
Unfortunately, the novel never rises above any of this. It has a solid start but unravels quickly.