Book Review: Soulless by Gail Carriger

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You know, I really enjoyed this book.

I received it as a Secret Santa gift back in 2008(2009?) from a previous job – a co-worker who was also my best-co-worker-friend happened to draw my name, and knew exactly what I wanted, since I would rave about it occasionally to him.

A new steampunk novel! With a female lead! Who goes on adventures! And has supernatural elements! SIGN ME UP.

And while I thoroughly read it cover to cover while I had the opportunity to (long story short, but many of my mother’s and my possessions were stolen, including my novels), there was always a nagging feeling of dissatisfaction as I read it. That, despite the wonderful characters and interesting enough plot, made me go “…huh. Really.” as I read it.

Namely, the biggest things that bothered me about it was the

  • constant repetition of the main character’s ‘flaws’, and
  • how quickly (spoiler – highlight this sentence to see) she got together with the implied love interest

To wit, Alexia (the protagonist) is not at all like her family. Part Italian, olive-skinned, who has a larger nose and is substantially curvier and bustier than her sisters – and also cursed(blessed?) with no soul, which enables her to negate supernatural beings and their powers. But these points are driven home over

and over

and over

and over again, constantly, enough to make you scream ‘YES, I GET IT’ about a third of the way through the novel. Having a character that stands out is wonderful, and occasional reminders of that via story elements/how they interact with the world is perfectly fine, but to continually have Alexia remind people – and by extension, us – about this (or to have it mentioned in the narrative numerous times) is a bit grating.

As to the second point: too soon. Alexia’s obvious attraction to Lord Maccon  (local handsome man, loud, powerful, and werewolf, who obviously returns those feelings) makes for a great plot point, and it’s absolutely lovely seeing the interactions (both snippy and sincere) between the two. But I felt that it was resolved altogether too quickly, and book makes a point of providing a quintessential ‘happy ending cliffhanger’ where things are seemingly resolved. It goes without saying that it certainly isn’t, but that’s for the sequels. Perhaps I’m spoiled by similar characters, like Sookie Stackhouse (who purses on-again, off-again love interests over a period of time before hooking up), but I felt that Carriger missed an opportunity to really develop their relationship further, over several books.

Now, that sounds like a lot of negativity, which probably makes you think “well,  what’s the point of reading it, then? Why bother?”

You’d miss out on some amazing support characters, like Ivy, Professor Lyall, and the ever fantastic Lord Akeldama. I cannot describe them in too much detail, but they seriously help ‘make’ the book.

You’d miss out on some fantastic world building that the author has put into the background, carefully weaving history with supernatural and steampunk elements in a very creative and enduring way.

You’d miss out on an otherwise fantastic female protagonist who is honestly struggling with her own insecurities and issues while trying to toe the social party line. Her difficulties, and how she manages to overcome them, make for some lovely reading.

Overall? Give it a read. You’d be missing out on some fantastic reading otherwise, despite my complaints here and there – and if you like steampunk, historical fiction (with supernatural elements), or strong female characters (and hopefully any combination of these), I think you’d get a kick out of this, too.

This is not my usual fare, but I wanted to share something I loved with you. I hope that you’ll be able to love it, too.

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