From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel: The Parasol Protectorate: Book the First by Gail Carriger

Review by Cynthia Ward

The sun never sets on Gail Carringer’s version of the British Empire. This is partially due to the advice given its rulers—including the current sovereign, Queen Victoria—by loyal, long-lived supernatural subjects.

Of course, most of the Empire’s subjects are mortals. Occasionally, one of these mortals is born without a soul. The soulless Miss Alexia Tarabotti feels it necessary to hide her “preternatural” condition from other mortals. She cannot, however, hide her social disadvantages: she is a spinster of advanced years (twenty-six) and half Italian. Nor can she hide her soullessness from the supernatural set, who all know her, with good reason, as a “soul-sucker.” So it is a mystery as to why a vampire has behaved so badly—and self-destructively—as to attack Miss Tarabotti. And it is decidedly awkward that she has accidentally killed him.

Her attempts to investigate this inexplicable incident bring Miss Tarabotti into frequent contact with Lord Maccon, who is not only head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, but annoying, Scottish, and the Alpha werewolf. Lord Maccon is not the only complication. Miss Tarabotti finds herself snared in the tentacles of a secret scientific society with decidedly nasty plans for Britain’s preternaturals and supernaturals. And even the highest levels of government may be involved in her fate.

If you’ve been looking for a steampunk-tinged urban fantasy novel of manners, Gail Carriger makes your dream come true with her delightful debut novel, Soulless. An intelligent and amusing alternate history, its main character is well-portrayed on its cover (a mix of Poppinsian parasol with murky Industrial-Age London) and in its opening paragraphs:

Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening. Private balls were never more than middling amusements for spinsters, and Miss Tarabotti was not the kind of spinster who could garner even that much pleasure from the event. To put the pudding in the puff: she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire.

She glared at the vampire.

As the sudden diction change from high Austenian to low pulp indicates, this novel may be less than entertaining for the linguistic purist (especially if that purist also demands a certain Victorian innocence which Miss Tarabotti, who combines inexperienced spinster with well-read bluestocking, does not entirely possess). However, Soulless should provide capital entertainment for anyone who enjoys urban fantasy or alternate history. And, for readers who’ve been avoiding all those post-Laurellian paranormal novels, Soulless is the exception that proves the rule. In short, you’ll love it, too.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel: The Parasol Protectorate: Book the First
By Gail Carriger
Orbit Books
Mass Market Paperback
$7.99 US/$9.99 Canada
ISBN: 978-0-316-05663-2
October 2009

You Might Also Enjoy:

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (U.K. title, Temeraire)
Magic to the Bone by Devon Monk
Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
The Steampunk Trilogy by Paul di Filippo

Tagged as: , ,