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Worlds Without End Blog

WoGF Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger Posted at 7:02 PM by Christine Bellerive


WWEnd Women of Genre Fiction Reading ChallengeChristine Bellerive (cmbellerive) is an omnivorous reader who devours literary and genre fiction alike. When she’s not reading, she’s editing other people’s books — and writing a fantasy novel of her own. Her other interests include stringed instruments and hunting dogs of the American South. She blogs at Strange Quarks.

SoulessI picked Soulless because of the fun cover: Victorian girl with attitude, holding unspeakably awesome brass parasol. I figured it’d be a whimsical light read.

The story takes place in an alternate history where “supernaturals” (vampires, werewolves, ghosts) are accepted in society and live their lives duly regulated by law. Queen Victoria has a government bureau to oversee them. Alexia Tarabotti is a snarky spinster who belongs to another class of beings: “preternaturals,” which means humans who have either too much soul or no soul at all. She’s one of the soulless ones, which basically seems to mean that she has terrible taste in art, and also she can neutralize a supernatural. Werewolves and vampires lose their powers when in physical contact with her.

Enter Lord Maccon, a handsome and wealthy werewolf. Romance and hijinks ensue.

Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. For one thing, it’s on the girly side for my taste. I was hoping for an adventure story, but this is really a romantic comedy, and romantic comedy of the type that reads like the naughty dreams of a fifteen-year-old girl. Maybe if I liked that sort of thing in general, I’d be more positive about this book, but it just wasn’t for me on the basis of genre alone. I can hardly read Jane Austen, even though I recognize the quality of her writing, because of the ladies-in-drawing-rooms-worrying-about-love subject matter. So reading a knockoff wasn’t much fun.

I also found it difficult to get past the stilted pseudo-Victorian diction. I don’t mind a mannered and archaic voice — I really enjoyed E. B. Hudspeth’s The Resurrectionist – but for me the execution has to be spot-on. Carriger uses some genuine Victorianisms, but also a lot of stereotypical British phrases that sound cut-and-pasted from Mary Poppins, as well as modern expressions that are anachronistic in context. She sticks them together in long, poorly-constructed, vaguely Austen-ish sentences and calls it steampunk. It was like listening to someone talk in a terrible fake accent for 350 pages.

Gail CarrigerThe concept of “soulless” people was pretty original, and I liked the eventual introduction of scientists trying to figure out what vampirism is. What is the “soul,” and how does it transfer from person to person? There are some potentially interesting themes here, but nothing much gets done with them. Alexia is occasionally witty, and there were even a couple moments when I chuckled out loud. Still, overall I didn’t enjoy this book.

Did I mention the clunky makeout scenes? They go on for pages and pages, and they sound something like this: “Then he inserted tab A into slot B. Oh my! she said.” The level of detail is awkward, cliched, and unsexy. Not to mention anachronistic.

I even lost some of my amusement with the cover design, when I realized that the main character is supposed to have ample curves. Then what is a rail-thin woman doing in the picture? Feminism’s come so far.


Gary Dicken   |   02 Apr 2013 @ 03:39

Quite agree with you that the cover promises more than the book delivers. Too coy for even young adult fiction (a lot of which is very good) and way too stilted for an action/steampunk story. Disappointing and has put me off reading the subsequent books.

Hayley   |   04 Apr 2013 @ 08:25

I’ve managed the first chapter having chosen it for much the same reasons you did but I just don’t think I can finish it. I’d described it as ‘badly written Austen with vampires’ to a friend but you’ve put it so much better and pretty accurately summed up my feelings about the writing style. It’s not for me, perhaps I’ll plough through it eventually but for now I think I shall read other things.

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