Miss Alexia Tarabotti is too old, too plain, and far too assertive to hope for a husband. But Alexia isn't just any spinster--she literally lacks a soul, and as such has a natural defense against anything supernatural. Vampires and werewolves turn human when they touch her (and revert back as soon as they stop touching). In Carriger's London, a vampire and a werewolf advise the Queen, there are night sessions of the Houses of Lords and Commons so the supernatural can attend, and vampires can just go down to the blood-brothels to get a legal sup of blood, being "soulless" is quite a useful defense indeed. Alexia is swept into a whirl of intrigue, and only her allies (her flamboyant vamp friend Lord Akeldama and her love interest, the werewolf alpha Lord Maccon), her quick wits, and her skill with a parasol can save her.
I enjoyed reading this. But once I put it down, I started to feel annoyed. The problem is, none of this story holds together. The Victorian society Carriger posits reads like any other romance-novel-version of Victorian London. Apparently, having vampires and werewolves living as part of the ton for the last three hundred years has had no impact whatsoever on the development of society. Oh sure, there are a few comments about how the supernatural creatures have sped up technological progress--aluminum as fashionable jewelry, odd balloons as a method of transport. But it's all window-dressing. They still get around via horse-and-carriage, their medical knowledge is as basic as can be, they're only just figuring out gas lighting, they don't even have telegraphs yet. And all the societal rules are the same! A big deal is made about how vamps and weres are so socially powerful and fashionable--and yet their mores aren't part of Victorian society at all. Humans don't ape the dominance displays of the wolves, or powder their faces to look like vamps, or show any awareness at all that they're surrounded by predators that think of them as food. The Church of England isn't even mentioned, but it apparently has no problem with supernatural beings that transcend death and live on blood. The book gives one neither the feel of Victorian England nor the feel of a magical city. It's just all thrown together, and it makes no sense!
And neither do the characters. They work like coin-operated figureines, performing whatever romance cliche they're supposed to, one trick after another. Here's how it goes:
girl and boy meet!
each leaves and reflects on how hot and bothered they are by the other! plot device throws them together!
he shuts her up with a masterful kiss!
her sexuality is awakened!
(interlude with secondary characters to maintain pretence that love interests have friends outside of their relationship)
oh no danger!
forced by plot to be naked together!
defeat evil together!
And scene. It's frustrating, because this book amused me while I read it, but esprit d'escalier is its downfall. Carriger throws a lot of cute windowdressing and nearly-funny one-liners into this book, and if her writing were a smidge more clever or a bit more thoughtful, I'd have enjoyed this immensely. As it is, I feel like I bit into a scrumptious looking pastry and got nothing but air.