Friday, November 27, 2009
THE PIE INSPECTOR GOES SOULLESS
By Annie Solomon
If you're looking for something fun to take you out of the holiday stress, have I got a book for you! It's a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Twilight, and a little bit Harry Potter. What can possibly combine all these divergent trends?
Soulless by Gail Carriger.
Now I'm no longer much of a reader. Maybe it's hormones (or lack thereof) or maybe it's too much writing (I tend to see the hidden structure and story-telling techniques too easily), but I have a hard time concentrating on books. So when I began investigating steam punk I ran up against a hard obstacle: I don't read.
But someone mentioned Gail to me and I was desperate enough to figure this whole steam punk thing out that I actually went to the bookstore and bought the book.
And it has given me hours of fun.
Set in Victorian England, the book is (I guess) what you'd call an "alternate reality." Like HP, magical beings inhabit the realm. Unlike the unknowing muggles, though, everyone knows about the supernaturals of Soulless . They are "out" so to speak and are kept in line by the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR), a division of Her Majesty's Civil Service. The hero of the book is the head of the BUR, the large, handsome and estimable Lord Macon, Earl of Woolsey, who also happens to be a werewolf.
The heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is a combination of Elizabeth Bennett and Mary Poppins. She has the wit and forthrightness of the former and the no-nonsense attitude of the latter. Her Italian heritage gives her a tawny complexion that is most undesirable, as well as a genetic inheritance that makes her unique: she has no soul. As such, she can bring down the most blood-hungry vampire or the most vicious werewolf with the touch of her hands. She is also, alas, a spinster, having reached the ripe old age of 26 with no marriage prospects in sight.
Alexia and Lord Macon meet cute in the infamous "hedgehog incident" which happens off camera (and is the funnier for it) but which is referred to often in the book. He is both annoyed and intrigued by her intelligence and self-possession; she is resigned to his annoyance and secretly attracted to his, well...his manly virtues (and who wouldn't be, I ask you?)
The story revolves around the mystery of disappearing rogue werewolves and the sudden appearance of rogue vampires--all of which happen without the knowledge or consent of the BUR.
As a so-called "steam punk" book, Soulless has the requisite science background. Characters wear odd spectacles called "glassicals" that are adorned with practical doo-dads. Carriger makes use of emerging 19th century technology, such as electricity and chloroform. There are plenty of steam-powered machines and gadgets and at least one robotic creature. And the scientific search for the soul that is necessary to transform humans into supernaturals forms the plot's backbone.
But what truly makes the book enjoyable are the characters. Alexia Tarabotti is a wonderful companion and I loved watching her annoy her werewolf. Lord Macon is a fine example of the bamboozled male--strong, confident, and completely undone by his dawning affection for Alexia.
Soulless is described on the book's cover as "a novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols." It is the first in what I hope will continue to be a wonderfully imagined series. Kudos to Carriger for thinking it up.