I must confess: I have not read much steampunk. I am also not the biggest fan of either werewolves or vampires....moreOriginally posted here at Anime Radius.
I must confess: I have not read much steampunk. I am also not the biggest fan of either werewolves or vampires. I also do not read a lot of Victorian lit, either from the era or inspired by it. Having said that, you would think I’d avoid a novel like Soulless by author Gail Carriger, which combines all of the above into one work. I picked the title up in the name of morbid curiosity, and found myself drawn into a solid story with some bumps in the road that kept it from being excellent. Not terrible, but not golden. Having said that, fans of the genre of fiction that centers around characters of the paranormal persuasion will love this book. Each race of fantastic creatures each have their own mythos that is slightly different than the ones paraded around in Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Not to mention, they are all terribly polite to the point that it plagues the rules of their species – an amusing side-effect from being born in times of Victorian niceties. In an era of novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it’s nice to see someone play the bloody tropes straight and have their world of petticoats and hansom cabs accept the presence of werewolves and vampires without having to outright wage war on them.
Fans of steampunk, I’m sorry to say, should find their cogs and gears fix somewhere else. The most steampunk elements of the book are the interest in science running rampant through academia, an apparent interest in the steampunk aesthetic demonstrated by both vampires and werewolves, the dirigibles in the skies over London (which just remind this reviewer of the zeppelins in the alternate universe on Doctor Who), and Alexia’s parasol, which is designed to protect her against unwholesome beasties. Aside from that, there are no grandiose steampunk-esque machines or experiments until the tail end of the book. Alexia, although an avid bookworm and thinker, never rolls up her sleeves and tinkers with machinery. Nothing about average Victorian society apart from the dirigibles suggest a steampunk atmosphere – and it confounds me that they would use it as a selling point when I can’t really see it in the text. The bloody cover is more steampunk than the book itself.
(And as for the cover itself? Alexia Tarabotti looks slim and pale skinned, not the lightly tanned and curvy Rubenesque young woman described in the novel. Plus, she is wearing a stereotypically steampunk hat that isn’t even hers. This isn’t the kind of whitewashed cover that Justine Larbalestier’s Liar got, not by a long shot, but it pretty much wipes out the fact that Alexia is half-Italian with a complexion to match and is not a ‘perfect hourglass’ figure.)
Having said all that, Soulless is not without its merits, despite it sounding like there are none. For example, it is obvious that Derriger did a metric ton’s worth of research on the intricate details of Victorian era living, from the foods and clothing to the dining etiquette and social manners that were so prevalent during that period. Like any good English Victorian novel, it is packed with dry wit (which, as I hear from self-declared Brit John Oliver, is something the English invented themselves) and manages to make even the most simple social slip-ups remarkably hilarious. I love that when Alexia is in the face of mortal danger from a vampire her biggest worry is on the lines of how scandalous her untied hair must seem or that she really picked a bad day to wear her best evening gown.
Alexia Tarabotti herself is the perfect kind of main protagonist you want narrating a tale of supernatural going-ons in prim and proper London. She is a spinster with a dark complexion and curves to spare, a woman who loves to read and is far too intelligent for her own good – aka the kind of woman their mother despairs over because she’ll never marry, and society pretty much dismisses her as a never-do-anything because of it. Does it bring her down? Of course not. She does what she wants, is capable of protecting herself thank you very much Lord Maccon, and once she sets her mind on something that something usually gets done no matter what. Alexia is stubborn and clever in a pinch and her constant snarky Victorian-era point of view as she straddles upholding social standards in all situations and navigating the waters of the vampire/werewolf realm brings a clarity to some of the more convoluted aspects of the time. Even the golden age of scientific discovery, it seems, can’t stop society from upholding ridiculous moral and social attitudes that make things overly complicated, even for someone who was used to it. It’s a shame that, in ostracizing Alexia from society and thus making her a candidate for BUR’s meddling, that they over-emphasize her Italian features and body shape. I understand that it is a Victorian viewpoint and it is Alexia herself telling the story, but there must be more subtle and better ways of separating one from the pack without resorting to overly describing her physical characteristics. (There’s also the fact that the prose seems confused on whether she is barely tan or very much tan, but that could be another thing chalked up to the narrator’s own self-perceived flaws.)
Alexia’s foil presents itself in the form of Lord Maccon, and the back blurb of the novel describes him perfectly: loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf. I often find that when a writer tries to integrate the wolf-aspects into the human form’s personality, it doesn’t end well and seems painfully forced, but for Lord Maccon his werewolfish tendencies while still looking very much a human are a delight to read. He is just as stubborn and snarky as Alexia, and every time they butt heads over BUR policy or a social disaster you can practically smell the romantic tension building up between them. I found myself cheering for their very dysfunctional romance, and I’m not the type to cheer for the main characters to become couples straight out of the gate. When Alexia learns via Professor Lyall that Lord Maccon has actually begun courting her werewolf-fashion, her responses to his advances from then on are some of the most amusing and titillating scenes in the book. Yes, things get very steamy between our Victorian heroine and her dashing rogue friend, but never does it become embarrassingly explicit or unnecessarily detailed. After all, it’s not a smut book, it’s a mostly-general supernatural fantasy set in steampunkish Victorian England, dang it! This is the era of the Brontë sisters and Wilkie Collins; fade to black or be gone with you!
The only other time that Soulless outright addresses sexuality is through Lord Akeldama, whom upon meeting him for the first time you’d be foolish not to notice that he is English, intelligent, and gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide. It is never expressed in those words, but you’d have to be blind, living under a rock, and have never interacted with any sort of media to not realize Lord Akeldama prefers vampires his own gender – and probably those who share his extremely vibrant and garish taste in clothing. Reading Derriger’s descriptions of his usual outfits, you can imagine how many times Alexia has to look away from the vastly technicolor nature of his design. But Lord Akeldama is also one of the most intelligent and clever people in the entire novel, someone who has ears practically everywhere in England and is a very useful informant when Alexia or BUR needs some intel on what’s what. This is why, when Akeldama admits to Alexia that he doesn’t know what is going on with the disappearances, you can feel that it’s not right. Akeldama, the man who knows too much, knows nothing? The fact that this happens only briefly after first meeting him and yet has the power to affect the reader’s perception of the problem at hand should highlight some of the skill in which author Derriger wields her control over the ongoing drama than runs through the main narrative; under all the English humor and romantic situations there is always a hint of danger on the horizon, a clue that something more sinister and dangerous is approaching for the cast that will test the lot of them in unthinkable ways. This is what kept me reading page after page despite its flaws: Derriger made me want to know what would happen next. An author who can effectively grab a reader’s attention and then slowly pull them in like a sinkhole until the very end is one to be remembered with great respect.
The second book in the series, Changeless, is on my list of books to read. I think that as a second book, it will be more satisfying that the first as it will be a story with an already establish universe and therefore will not suffer from the growing pains that are evident in the world-building process that goes on throughout Soulless, at times reading more like mindless exposition than thoughtful background information. It’s clear that Derriger took great pains to set up this alternate universe of machines and manners and beasties all meshed together, but the effort getting there seems to have seeped through the actual prose too well. I can’t help but think that if she had laid off on revealing some of the information introduced in the first chapter until it didn’t seem like such a pile of info that the entire process would have read a lot more smoothly.
In all, Soulless is a solid read for fans of the biologically strange and socially astute, and is a fascinating look into a world hopefully expanded upon in the following books of the series. I can’t help but be intrigued and attracted to the character of Alexia Tarabotti, and as long as she is headlining this steampunk world of high society and secret magics, I will continue to follow her continuing adventures until their conceivable end. (less)
**spoiler alert** Originally reviewed here at Anime Radius
The first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless, had held much promise for me as...more**spoiler alert** Originally reviewed here at Anime Radius
The first book of the Parasol Protectorate series, Soulless, had held much promise for me as a reader but only scored a C rating for a multitude of flaws, partly a growing pains sensation of having to introduce such a wide universe of supernatural steampunk Victorian London in so many pages. I had indicated in my previous review that its sequel, Changeless, was one I would be looking forward to in anticipation of seeing Gail Carriger earn her popularity and acclaim by fans and reviewers alike. Now that I've read the second book in the Parasol Protectorate series, I can now say one thing: it was totally worth getting through Soulless to read this book. In fact, by the time Alexia was beating the everloving bejeezus out of a petulant werewolf soldier, I was pretty much in love with this book and thinking myself a proud tea-drinking member of Team Alexia (and Team Akeldama for the win!). I think if you join now, you get a spiffy badge and a free parasol (weapon accessories not included; contact Madame Lefoux for an appointment ASAP before everyone else gets wind of it). If the second book is a marker of the places this series can go, then I look forward with fangirlish eagerness to the further adventures of the Parasol Protectorate.
In this book, Alexia and her core gang of merry supernaturals (and the occasional mere mortal) are truly at top form, embroiled in more drama than ever before, from Ivy's romantic entanglements to Alexia's husband problems. People who are fans of his wolfness Lord Maccon may be disappointed: he appears briefly in the first chapter, runs out to take care of business, and is not really seen until the dirigible lands in Scotland. That's quite alright - it gives Alexia more of a chance to shine solo, show why she is the perfect protagonist for this series. She's headstrong and dead set on getting things done her own way - that is, by wielding a parasol like a champ and answering the evils of London with her signature sharp wit - and if you don't love Alexia by the end of this book, you'd do best to stop reading the series 'cos Alexia is the life blood of the books and especially Changeless. She might just yet rocket to the top of my most favorite fictional heroine list if the third book manages to top this one.
There were several things tackled in Changeless that were truly memorable, one of them being the steampunk elements of the book. In my previous review, I had complained about a lack of essential steampunk and felt what little there were seemed more like window dressing than actual elements. However, my fears of this being a steampunk book without merit of holding that genre tag have been completely blown away. In this book, there's cogs and gears and magnificent steam-powered science. The dirigibles and the aethographer, which are so SP in essence, are essential plot points and don't seem tacked on in the slightest. Add to that Alexia's wonderful new parasol, and the series has finally come into its own as a steampunk work - although I kinda like referring to it as teapunk, for obvious reasons. Another issue tackled by the series is, surprisingly enough, a topic not exactly laid out in the open in Victorian times: sexuality. It isn't overtly addressed until the end of the book, but astute readers will certainly have their suspicions over the leanings of a certain character - and this time, it isn't the flaboyantly fabulous Lord Akeldama. And personally, I love Carriger for including more LGBTQQI characters in her work, especially since the Victorians weren't exactly known to be nice to those parts of society and I'm sure Miss Carriger will treat the issue of such characters in Victorian society with the respect they will deserve. The fact that the LGBTQQI characters do not suffer from flat personalities and are treated as worthy additions to the character roster feels my bisexual cisgendered heart with glee and squee.
The very end of Changeless is possibly the most incendiary and thrilling part of the book, and when you read it, you will be hopping mad at certain characters and be frantically searching for your own copy of Blameless - and no, it's not out yet, but it will be out in September of this year. Books that invoke that sort of reactions in readers? Always a top pick in my mind. If Soulless was the necessary stepping stone to set up the main story and cast of characters, then Changeless is the book that makes the series into a spectacular must-read for all fans of books looking for something out of the ordinary. After all, there are steampunk books, and there are supernatural books, and there are Victorian comedy of errors . . . and then there is Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, which if it's not on your bookshelf right now, it should be. (less)
**spoiler alert** Originally posted here at Anime Radius.
Do you like fantasy books in alternative Victorian England where the technology and fashion o...more**spoiler alert** Originally posted here at Anime Radius.
Do you like fantasy books in alternative Victorian England where the technology and fashion of steampunk is part of everyday life? Do you like your werewolves and vampires and other supernatural things to wear fancy dress and follow the old fashioned rules of etiquette, usually to humorous effect? Do you like reading about a well-read half-Italian woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind and wields a parasol like a weapon (because it is)? And . . . you're not reading the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, now at three books and ongoing? For shame! Right now, there hasn't been a better time to jump into this excellent series, especially since the third book kicks off so many plots and subplots that will continue the story through several more volumes - all of them wickedly interesting and sure to make great reads in the next year. Plus, more Alexia Tarabotti! And that can never be a bad thing.
In the third book of the series chronicling Alexia's adventures in both the abnormal and the mundane, Blameless, she finds herself in a bigger pickle than ever before: her husband has deserted her; there's an impossible baby on the way; she has to live with her odious family yet again; her vampire BFF has gone AWOL with no clear reason why; it seems like everyone is pretty much out to kill her - including, of all things, mechanical ladybugs with very dangerous antennae. As usual, the amount of paranormal nonsense Alexia must go through on a daily basis is always strange and vastly interesting - as well as the fact that Alexia is less scandalized by these things happening to her as much as the fact that protecting herself from them means ruining all her best skirts and gowns in the process. In this volume, however, she has one more thing to worry about - she's pregnant. Her conversations with the 'infant-inconvenience' growing in her body are terribly amusing, and it makes one wonder what kind of mother Alexia will make if/when the child is born - or for that matter, what kind of father Lord Maccon might be.
Another new thing in Blameless is the new attention on Lady Tarabotti's preternatural soulless state, now more curious than ever seeing that she's with child by a werewolf, and such a union is rare if not impossible. As readers, we have spent two books following Alexia's life without a soul and have gotten used to her 'condition', so seeing characters like the German scientist Mr. Lange-Wilsdorf (who insists on addressing Alexia as the 'Female Specimen') and the church's preceptor (who in turn calls Alexia 'My Soulless One', capital letters and all) examine her like a slide underneath a microscope's gaze is unsettling in the strangest of ways. It's a good sign that Alexia's soullessness is going to become part of the ongoing story in a big way and I look forward to seeing how everything is resolved, if anything is. Add to this the dynamics of werewolf packs and vampire hives as well as the inner workings of England's high society set against a very gears-and-cogs world and it's plain to see that all the world-building and details built up in the first book are greatly paying off.
So, let's add it all up, shall we? In this book alone, a fearlessly stubborn and pregnant soulless female lead is dodging killer insects and odious vampires currently swarming a most steampunk London set in the Victorian age before being forced to flee with her stiff upper lipped butler and French inventor female friend to the land of tasty green sauce and dementedly religious Templars while her husband skulks around drunk on 'pickling' liquid and his beta is forced to pick up the pace of running the pack - and somewhere in the English countryside a fabulously distressed vampire is looking for his favorite drone and a research center disguised as a hat boutique is being overrun by ugly headgear by an unwitting Ivy Hisselpenny and her board-treading husband. With all these awesome exciting things going on, you'd be demmed foolish to not give this book a whirl. (less)
What a disappointing end to a pretty good series. I've already spent a good half-hour venting about this to my mother, so you will all get the short v...moreWhat a disappointing end to a pretty good series. I've already spent a good half-hour venting about this to my mother, so you will all get the short version (trying not to include spoilers, natch).
A lot of events felt contrived or rushed, the action scenes were clunky, the depiction of Egypt was simplistic and verging on problematic, and the entirety of Biffy's story arc was ridiculous. Also, I felt like the ending was also rushed when it should have been thoroughly explored in the text given how many things happened that were Really Big Deals (especially when related to Ivy, Alexia, Conall, and Biffy). Let's not get into the fact that Lord Akeldama has become a faint, stereotypical shade of his former self who doesn't bat an eye when Biffy . . . well, does what he does. Things just didn't make any sense.
If it weren't for Alexia being Alexia, the characters of Madame Lefoux and Kingair being awesome, and the worldbuilding about the mechanics of steampunk Egypt and England, this would probably be one star. I can only hope Carriger's next series (apparently a prequel set in the same verse) doesn't do the same thing - start out okay, build up potential, and then end with a crash. This book could have easily been expanded into two books and been twice as enjoyable. If only!(less)
This adaptation of Gail Carriger's Soulless is surprisingly entertaining, with a lot of lovely art and a script that gives the original work a fresh l...moreThis adaptation of Gail Carriger's Soulless is surprisingly entertaining, with a lot of lovely art and a script that gives the original work a fresh look for a new audience of readers. If you have not gotten on the teapunk bandwagon, then now is the time to do so!