‘Soulless’ is the first book in the ‘Alexia Tarabotti/Parasol Protectorate’ series of books, which currently stands at five books. Gail Carriger is also starting two new but related series in 2013, a young adult series called ‘The Finishing School’ and another adult series called ‘The Parasol Protectorate Abroad’. After having read this first book, I can’t wait to read these two series as well.
The lead character in this series, Alexia Tarabotti, lives in a world in which Victorian manners exist alongside vampires and werewolves. Alexia herself is a preternatural, basically this means she is able to neutralise supernatural powers so if you are a vampire and you happen to attack her you will find yourself toothless the moment you touch her, even through fabric. As you can imagine, this creates some hilarious scenes involving various supernatural creatures suddenly being naked or without their fangs and trying to maintain their Victorian decorum. Vampires, werewolves and ghosts have become common knowledge and accepted in this version of Victorian England since the age of enlightenment. They have their own police force called BUR, Queen Victoria has both a werewolf and a vampire advisor, basically they are treated like another member of society. However, they are treated as though they are slightly lower in the Victorian hierarchy.
Alongside Miss Tarabotti, there is a fabulous cast of individual characters, each one being a complete person in their own right. There’s Ivy and her truly offensive hat collection; Lord Maccon the new London pack leader down from Scotland with the manners to match; and Lord Akeldana a particularly outrageous vampire with…interesting dress sense, to name just a few. I really hope we get to see more of these characters and even more alongside them in future books. Carriger really does have a talent for creating characters in her books that you really want to get to know better over a nice cup of tea.
I have to admit that it takes a few pages to get into the language Carriger uses in this book, it’s very Victorianesque. I found it to be very verbose in a very Austen fashion which does take a while to get to the point. However, I did also enjoy this type of writing compared to the usual urban fantasy I read. It was very polite and not at all rushed, even the fights scenes were written in a gentle fashion. I love the complete incongruity of the Victorian elements and the urban fantasy elements. For example, at one point Alexia, sorry Miss Tarabotti, sits down to tea with some vampires and while she takes her tea with a little milk they take theirs with a little blood! This is all completely accepted as normal. I can even see the poor butler having to ask everyone how they like their tea, with milk, lemon or blood.
Carriger has thrown steampunk, romance, comedy, urban fantasy and alternative history into her mixing bowl and created her very own sub-genre in this novel. Well done on Orbit for taking a punt on this really very odd but also very enjoyable novel. I can see how many other publishers may have decided it was just too odd for them. I would 100%.
(pub: Orbit. 291 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-972-7)