Mar 6, 2012

[Books] Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate - Book 1)

In recent times, I've become quite the Kindle Daily Deals junkie. It's not like I always buy the book being offered on sale - I still have fairly discerning geeky tastes in books. However it has led me to try more books that I would not have normally picked off the shelf on my own since the pricing seemed too hard to resist. I mean come on, books for as low as $0.99 - $1.99 are pretty ridiculous indeed. That really does a lot to push a title past my personal purchasing threshold with a minimum amount of guilt over the purchase.

Another thing that always gets me (with respect to books) are the allure of any series of books. You see, any reader such as myself will always feel the need for continually acquiring new titles to read. And thus any book presented to be part of a larger series becomes instantly more attractive since it means that the reader is assured of something to look forward to as each new title is released. And yes, this does means sometimes we get stuck with some pretty crappy books, but that's life for you.

So this book blipped on my radar when I finally caught it as a daily deal. It promised some steampunk-style action complete with vampires and werewolves. So that along made it a pretty good deal.

It didn't immediately highlight the fact that the book was also designed as a romance, but thankfully I'm gay enough to enjoy that sort of thing.

Soulless is a steampunk / paranormal / romance novel written by Gail Carriger. It is the first in a series of books featuring one Alexia Tarabotti. The book has won Compton Crook, Locus and American Library Association awards and Carriger was also nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for  Best New Writer.

Alexia Tarabotti, being single at age 26, is a spinster and her family has all but lost hope of her getting married. But that's not the only thing separating her from the rest of society - Alexia is actually a person without a soul. And in this alternative version of Victorian England, not having a soul is a very rare thing indeed that acts as natural protection against supernatural forces. With but one touch, a vampire will lose its fangs or a werewolf will revert to human form. And yes, this is also a world that involves supernatural creatures of that nature.

But when Alexia kills a vampire at a social event in self-defense, this naturally gains the attention of Lord Maccon, the alpha werewolf who is both the Earl of Woolsey and the head of HRM Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR). But there was something odd about this particular vampire, especially given the fairly rigid caste system that keeps vampires in check. And as BUR continues to investigate the matter, Alexia finds herself also looking into the strange appearances of new vampires and the disappearances of other supernaturals. And all this with her brass parasol in tow as well.

The book maintains a light and rather whimsical tone that might remind one of the classic works of Jane Austin or perhaps the more recent zombified versions of classic stories that balance the older Victorian prose with somewhat more modern concepts about technology and the supernatural. And it generally works fro the story, although I can understand why some folks found the narrative style somewhat redundant at some points. After all, we have to follow Alexia around all the time as the story progresses and she does seem to fall into certain patterns of speech and behavior.

I really appreciated Carriger's concepts regarding the supernatural. The natural bounds of their ability to grow their numbers as related to how much soul a person has was a stroke of genius and it helped make such a society possible. With limited numbers, it was still more than possible to conceive of a London where humans, werewolves, vampires and even ghosts and co-exists, even if not always in public. And the addition of Alexia as a Soulless certainly provided an interesting plot device that I'm sure we're going to see a lot of in the subsequent books.

The romance aspects of the book threw me off - but that's mainly because I wasn't expecting it. And to be fair, her descriptions of sexual encounters were more humorous than steamy, especially with her penchant for dirty word play and excessive double entendre moments. Add in the usual Victorian-related jokes about the modesty of women and what is to be considered "proper" behavior and you get a general gist for the flow of the story.

The plot isn't overly complicated and in some parts even a tad shallow, but overall it's a light read that promises good fun. The focus here, naturally, was to properly introduce Alexia and her abilities and eventually her nature as a heroine. I expect future novels to build on this and more so all the characters around her in order to better flesh out the universe. Of course this assumes that I'm going to read all five books - something that I honestly have not determined at this point.

Soulless is a fun romp into an alternative world with some very interesting concepts for the supernatural general, even if not excessively all that developed on the steampunk side of the equation. The book still gets a respectable 3 instances of Alexia wishing that she had her brought her parasol with her out of a possible 5.

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