Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: "Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)," by Gail Carriger

Vampires are all the rage right now, especially the urbane, civilized kind. Werewolves - hitching a ride, perhaps, on the height-of-fashion coattails of their undead brethren - aren't far behind. "Soulless" hops on that paranormal gravy train and takes us for a ride into Victorian England, where vampires and werewolves are registered members of society. Not everyone knows they exist, but the crown, at the least, does.

Alexia Tarabotti knows about them, too. She's a preternatural -- or, as the title of the book implies, she has no soul. (The vampires and werewolves in Carriger's world are troubled by an excess of soul.) As a preternatural, Alexia's touch reduces any paranormal to a mere normal. It's an ability that will come in useful as she and werewolf alpha Lord Maccon try to get to the bottom of a rash of bizarre vampire- and werewolf-related incidents.

Trying to figure out who's behind those incidents is ostensibly the main plot in this story. In practice, the book is really one long, drawn-out, when-will-they-finally-have-sex teasers. The romance is fine on its own, but it winds up eclipsing the mystery and lands those two in ridiculous situations. (Spoiler: I mean, they're all but having sex while they're trapped in the villains' lair and have yet to figure out how to escape with their lives. Priorities, people.)

I did like Alexia's character: She's spunky, independent and, for a pleasant change of pace, not fantastically beautiful. Her Italian heritage is amusingly cited time and again as a big, black mark against her.

Humor is one of this book's strengths, for that matter. None of the characters are to be taken seriously. Alexia's family is absurd, the werewolves are a study in contradictions (the weakling as the alpha's righthand man? Sure, why not?), and the vampires are cast as a group of squabbling children. Lord Akeldama, a loner vampire and Alexia's friend, is meant along the same lines, but he's a foppishly over-the-top gay who would be more amusing if his dialogue were less annoying to read.

Perhaps the most telling judgment of this book is that there are four other books in the Parasol Protectorate series and I haven't been inclined to keep going. In all, "Soulless" was entertaining but not all that memorable.

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