In a Victorian London in which airships float above the skyline, werewolves and vampires dine with the aristocracy, and ghosts can continue to serve Queen and country, Alexia Tarabotti stands apart. She is a spinster, is intelligent, headstrong, and opinionated, and, worse yet, is half-Italian. Further, she is a rare specimen of human known as a preternatural (or “soulless”) and has the ability to negate the supernatural properties of the denizens of the night with her touch. Much to her consternation, it is exactly these socially awkward qualities that draw the increasingly amorous attentions of Lord Maccon, alpha werewolf and head of the BUR, the government agency that oversees paranormal affairs. As rove vampires and loner werewolves start disappearing, Alexia is drawn into a plot to upturn London society in ways that simply won’t do. Don your traveling gloves, finish your tea, and take your parasol in hand to join Alexia on a what can only be termed a romp through the London nightlife in the delightfully fun novel Soulless.
Carriger has created an interesting world in which the supernatural have been integrated into an idealized Victorian society. Further, the idea that the supernatural (including the undead) suffer from an excess of soul is an intriguing one. Alexia’s status as soulless does not refer to her sense of morality (or, heaven forfend, decorum) but only to her inability to be changed into such a creature and her ability to negate such affects in those that she touches, and only for the length of time said touch continues. It will be interesting to see how this unusual approach to the supernatural continues in the other novels of the series.
While the “Victorian-steampunk-meets-urban-fantasy” setting is fun, it is Carriger’s style that latches on to the reader and makes Soulless an exercise in pure joy. The author imbues her characters with the wit of Wodehouse, the verbal alacrity of Austen, and the ribald wryness of Wilde (okay, I had to stretch a bit on the last one). From page one the book takes off and rollicks down cobbled streets with nary a break in sight, carrying the reader along with a smile plastered to his windblown face. While the novel did feature more erotic romance than expected, Carriger handles it with aplomb and with the same sense of fun as the rest of the piece.
Now, if you will excuse me, I suddenly have a craving for tea sandwiches and a cup of Earl Grey.