In Gail Carriger‘s debut novel, Soulless, Alexia Tarabotti finds herself, unfortunately, without a soul. This can become quite convenient, as vampires and werewolves–for whom a human soul is essential for their continuation–cannot utilize their supernatural abilities when in contact with her.
I’m somewhat torn when it comes to my final thoughts about this novel. On one hand, I really, really loved it. Forget Pride and Prejudice and Zombies–this is Jane Austen meets Cassandra Clare (it’s quite similar to Clockwork Angel). In Carriger’s Victorian London, Vampires and Werewolves (as well as the odd ghost) are fully integrated into the well-ordered, hierarchical society. Queen Victoria has two supernatural advisors, aiding her in solidifying the British Empire. As the novel opens, a vampire (not well-dressed, mind you) commits a horrid breach of etiquette by attacking Miss Tarabotti–without even introducing himself! Luckily, Alexia was well armed with her custom-made brass parasol and a stake-hairpin.
Following this episode, Alexia finds herself thrust in the middle of a large conspiracy involving experimentation on supernatural beings (think Mengele), a creature which relentlessly pursues her, and a romance she does not quite want to admit (very Pride and Prejudice).
Alexia has always been a spinster, since she was a teenager. It must have something to do with the fact that she is Italian, as her mother and step-sisters consistently remind her. Therefore, she is not pale and anemic, which goes against what is in vogue at the time–looking like vampires is the height of fashion. She is also a tad too rambunctious for her family’s comfort, yet she has always toed the line regarding propriety.
This leads me to my only real problem: Social propriety lies at the core of the novel, which I love. Alexia plays hard to get with Lord Conall Maccon, Earl of Woolsey, a very Scottish werewolf alpha male–the clear Mr. Darcy parallel. Witty banter and very proper flirtation pervades the story, and they even engage in some kissing (for shame!). However, there are two scenes that go a bit too far past the well-constructed refinement and modesty.
There’s a lot going on in this novel. Dirigibles and scientific experimentation, political intrigue, espionage, religious debates regarding the soul, touches of steampunk, and wonderful wordplay. I really enjoyed it, and I will read the next books in the series.