Worth a Read? Yes, if you enjoy supernatural tales with a comedic romance flare.
"First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire—and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?"
This is a collaborative review by A. Lachance and M. McKinnon.
A: My first impression was laughter. Those first few paragraphs grab you by the funny bone with their premise—vampires, tarts, parasols…Really? I didn’t pick it up right away, but I knew I’d end up getting to it eventually.
M: The good thing about getting books recommended to you by people who have already suggested many other books that you’ve enjoyed is that there is a very good chance that you’ll enjoy the next one too. I admit, looking at the cover of this, I wasn’t sure about this one at all, but once my eyes had passed that first page, I was certainly not going to put it down, in case there were more amusements to come my way.
M: What do you do when you’re rudely attacked by a vampire? Smacking them over the head with an umbrella might not seem the brightest idea to the average vampire-hunter (and therefore being something that’s been completely left out of the Slaying 101 Manual) but then they’re not soulless.
Enter the heroine of the story: parasol-wielding, career spinster, and soulless Alexia Tarabotti.
Soulless starts with a bang or at the very least with a minor crash (note to self – vampires and treacle tarts do not mix) and we’re quickly inducted into the basic premise that the world is built on. This could be Victorian London—is Victorian London—but a London in a world where vampires have seen the light (metaphorically speaking), the local werewolf pack works for the Queen, and the most horrid experience you’ve had so far is your best friend’s choice of hat.
A: It is a good spin on the usual supernatural-laden world and I like the idea of a world where supernatural humans and beasties aren’t just monsters to be hunted. The author is mindful of the period she’s writing in, but I felt it fell short with Alexia.
As a main character, Alexia Tarabotti was both my favourite and most annoying element of the story. She’s a very colourful lead and—ike her male counterpart Lord Maccon—she’s well-developed, but falls foul of a lot of tropes near the mid- and end-parts of the story; most noticeably in her “rebellion” against society’s norms and the romantic subplot.
M: On the surface, I thought, it shouldn’t work…but as you delve into the events through Alexia’s eyes, oddly enough, it does. The story picks you up and throws you boldly into this world where you’re alternatingly wondering why you’re still reading and then turning the next page just to see what happens.
A: Exactly. Don’t get me wrong, the story gave me quite a few giggles…but more than my fair share of pauses. I felt the humour became stale in the middle as well before picking up again towards the end.
M: On that note, the humour is geared towards the obvious, but the writing is easy to follow. Also, if you’re an avid reader you’ll probably see some of the major plot twists coming from a mile away (which might add to or detract from part of the fun, depending on what type of reader you are).
A: This. So much this. I’m notorious for picking apart plots, but predictable or not, at least most of the story made sense. Too many stories end up muddling up their plots trying to be clever!
M: Thankfully, Soulless also has a witty commentary on the more mundane problems Alexia faces and they’re easy to relate to; for example, it’s not *our* overbearing mother that is making life difficult. We can enjoy those problems from their more amusing side (of which there are several; for instance, the inquisitive mind of Alexia’s late father having left behind what appears to be a substantial scientific and erotic library). Indeed, eroticism is a recurring element, developing from more mild forms and suggestions and growing increasingly bold as the story progresses. It also appears rather out of the blue. I certainly did NOT see that coming.
A: The eroticism, frankly, shocked me—I just didn’t expect it in this book at all until suddenly it was there. It doesn’t really come in until the back third of the book…. It does explain the choice of neon pink font though, I guess? It read a little shoe-horned in to me. Not that the love subplot was misplaced but just that the escalation felt unnatural. I’m also not the easiest reader to sway when it comes to romantic plots (and this book was not in the romance section of my bookstore, by the way).
M: In fact, it, in itself, has no effect on the plot. It would have been exactly the same book without it. Take away the main characters though, and most of the supporting cast appear to be very undeveloped tokens. Very colourful ones, in some cases, mind you, but ones that you feel would be more alive (or in the case of Lord Akeldema, more dead) on screen than in a text that doesn’t do them justice.
This review is of the mass market paperback edition, published by Orbit in 2009. [ISBN-13: 978-0-31605-663-2]
A: The cover and font choice certainly reflect the book’s premise. At first glance, I thought the neon pink colour choice with the cut-out title text was weird and it put me off. A Victorian lady with a parasol is certainly fitting of the theme, but not necessarily representative of the main character herself (at least I didn’t think so). It fits, on the face of it, and you’re not going to miss that bright colour on the spine…but it’s kitschy, too. I really thought it was a dime romance novel at first (but, again, it was in the science fiction/fantasy section where I bought it).
M: Definitely kitschy. I’m not usually a fan of photo covers, but this one does blend very nicely. It does seem to want to belong to several genres at the same time so it pretty much requires you to pick it up before you can define what type of book it is (and even then the contents will surprise you again).
A: I enjoy the spine design too, not just because it mirrors the cover nicely, but the series logo is at the top. It ends up looking smart on a shelf, especially next to the other books in the series, and—having seen them in store—they stand out but still look like a series (the neon colours do help with that though).
M: Haven’t seen them in store, but it’s certainly easy to find among my bookshelves, being the only spine featuring neon pink.
A: I’m always happy to see a mass market paperback that doesn’t crowd the pages. Because they’re a standard format, I’ve sometimes seen books that try to go to the absolute edge of margins, or cram their chapter titles into tops of pages—yes, even from big publishers!
M: And this makes it a lot easier on the eyes too. As does the cream paper it’s printed on.
A: This is also a good example of how easy it is to separate parts of your book without using fifty fonts! The text is just standard Times New Roman and to offset that, the chapter numbers and titles are in a sans serif font along with the folios and headers. On top of that, the chapter numbers are in all caps. It’s just a little thing, but it’s enough and sometimes simple design is best.
M: Actually, in terms of the layout, the only thing that irks me is a personal pet peeve. The insistence on putting the name of the author and the book on alternating pages.
A: …I think this is a North American book quirk! I just checked and UK published books on my shelves don’t do this—and some only have folios (no titles or author names at all). But overall, it’s a clean, well-crafted mass market paperback. I also appreciate the short interview with the author at the end instead of just a photograph.
M: It also carries an excerpt from the publisher’s next book. The last thing to note is that “Gail Carriger” is a nom-de-plume—and a lot of information about the “author” is very tongue-in-cheek.
A: I was overall amused, but I wouldn’t consider this more than a one-time read. It’s part of a series and much like this first book, I’m tentatively curious to keep reading. I’m worried it’ll be more of the same humour coupled with more eye-rolling moments. It’s decently contained as a one-shot though, so if you need something silly and easy to read, I’d suggest it (provided you’re in the mood for a supernatural mystery/romance, of course).
M: No treacle tarts were harmed as part of this production—but I’m perfectly willing to volunteer for the arduous duty of eating any that might have survived. I actually had a lot of fun with playing “spot the plot-twist” even though I suspect that wasn’t what the author intended and am curious enough to keep an eye out for the next book in the series—but that will have to come courtesy of the local library.
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