With steampunk and vampires at the forefront of hip, I imagine it was only a matter of time before I read a novel featuring both. Gail Carriger’s Soulless is the first book in her Parasol Protectorate series, which details an alternate Victorian world where the supernatural has been known to exist for several centuries and many historical events, particularly Henry VIII’s split from the Catholic Church, are now based around this knowledge (and acceptance) of vampires and werewolves in their midst.
Gail Carriger takes a tongue in cheek approach to the social mores and gender roles in 19th century England. Though set in a later time period, some of the conundrums and absurdity of the social situations are very evocative of Jane Austen. Never before have I concerned myself with propriety regarding vampires and werewolves.
Her protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, is 25 years old and has inherited a prominent nose and olive complexion from her Italian father. In Victorian England, this dooms her to a tragic life as a spinster. Another gift from her father is that she lacks a soul, which has two unusual side effects. The first is that she has no artistic talent. The second is that she can neutralize supernatural powers through physical contact.
Her soulless nature draws her into a mystery in which vampires and werewolves are disappearing under ominous circumstances. It also forces her into contact with Lord Maccon, head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registration who is also a werewolf. He is Queen Victoria’s agent in investigating the mystery at hand and has little patience for the meddling of a civilian woman such as Alexia.
There were some hiccups in the book’s narrative that I didn’t enjoy. There came a point where the humor of the piece stretched on before the plot really dug in. And I thought that the early presentation of the unspoken romantic tension between Alexia and Lord Maccon was a little heavy handed. But that was early on in the book and the narrative took off like a rocket from there. An element I particularly enjoyed was that the concern over propriety and scandal was so heavily, if humorously, emphasized that I became increasingly worried at the dishonor that might occur due to the romantic developments between Lord Maccon and Alexia.
If you’re looking for steampunk, vampires, romance or all three, I heartily recommend this book. While light in tone, it does not sacrifice dramatic tension in the process.