Well I seem to be on a reading-and-reviewing jag lately. As someone who has always loved science fiction and fantasy but finds the current craze for all-things-Twilight a bit gag-inducing, it was refreshing to find a light, humorous, and literate take on the vampire/werewolf genre.
First, I should say that I'm sure that the Twilight series is fine for innocent young things whose mothers are anxious for their daughters to remain pure for their future husbands ... and for those same mothers who long for their own days of sheer romance without the dangers inherent in more mature relationships. However, when I first heard of the original book ... long before the movies ever came out ... I tried (the operative word being "tried") to read it. I literally could not force myself beyond the first couple of chapters, the book was so poorly written. I was actually astonished that it found a publisher and an editor who allowed it to come to print in its current form. Nevertheless, that series is aimed at a different readership, and is not the subject of this review.
Reading Soulless, by Gail Carriger, was like finding a surprising little crystal dish of fresh strawberries, when you were expecting a lump of heavy bread pudding. (I use the food analogies intentionally, as the heroine is refreshingly interested in all things gustatory, and makes no bones about her determination to remain well-fed.) Set in an alternate-world Victorian England where supernatural beings are well-known, "Soulless" starts off with a bang: at a ball, after having retreated alone to the library, Miss Alexia Tarabotti happens upon "an unexpected vampire." He advances toward her, "darkly shimmering out of the library shadows with feeding fangs ready. However, the moment he touched Miss Tarabotti, he was suddenly no longer darkly doing anything at all. He was simply standing there, the faint sounds of a string quartet in the background as he foolishly fished about with his tongue for fangs unaccountably mislaid."
Since our heroine is "different" in many ways from her mother and sisters, she is considered to be an unmarriageable spinster at the ripe old age of 26. As a result of this status, she is rather more adventurous, outspoken, and hardheaded than other ladies of her station in life, and has decided that she might as well enjoy it. With the addition of some of the most interesting and delightful characters I've encountered in a long time (a loud, messy, gorgeous werewolf police inspector, an adorably effeminate Lord of the Realm vampire who takes her under his wing, a stalwart old-family butler who reminds me of Jeeves, and who I hope to see more of in subsequent books, a silly girlfriend with atrocious taste in hats but a warm heart, and several others), Soulless has become my favorite-book-of-the-week.
How to classify this book? Well, obviously a Supernatural Fantasy, but unlike anything I've read in that genre before. A Romance, yes; but again, not typical at all ... Miss Tarabotti is entirely too independent-minded and mischievous to fall into that trap! A Mystery, yes; although a not too taxing one. The best part of reading this book was how many times I giggled and re-read favorite lines and paragraphs and whole passages ... some of which were quite erotic in a very proper Victorian way, and some of which were just so wonderfully well-written that I had to enjoy them again.
It's not surprising to find that the author, Gail Carriger, is the daughter of British expatriates. Her sense of humor carries over into her brief Interview located at the end of the book.
Unfortunately, my blasted Editor's Eye caught several errors, including a couple of anachronisms. They were few and far between, however, and should not impinge upon your enjoyment of this wonderful addition to your library.
Highly recommended ... and I can't wait to read the next one, Changeless (which is luckily already in my possession.)