Gail Carriger’s novel Soulless is a delicious stew of genres: steampunk, horror, fantasy, and romance. I like to look at it as a gentle parody of all three, with a large cast of comic characters that realize her zany plot. As we are told many times by the author, Alexia Tarabotti has more than a few problems. Not only is she half-Italian, she is also a spinster, and lacking a soul. The first two alone are enough to cause a scandal among the Victorian upper class (and probably give her mother the vapors). The last makes Alexia an outcast in a world that has integrated vampires, werewolves, and ghosts–beings known for an overabundance of soul–into polite society. When Alexia accidentally kills a vampire for making unwelcome advances, she becomes the prime suspect for a rash of recent vampire disappearances. Now she has to join forces with the obnoxious, but intriguing Lord Maccon (an alpha werewolf and Queen Victoria’s chief investigator) to solve the mystery without becoming a victim herself.
For the most part, I really enjoyed reading Soulless. It was light enough for a lunch time read and had enough laugh out loud moments (including Alexia’s jabs at her friend’s lack of taste in hats) to keep me reading. I could have done without the constant reminders of Alexia’s spinsterhood and Lord Akeldama’s italicized dialogue. I loved the rich detail Carriger poured into her novel, particularly the passages about the differences between preternatural, supernatural, and just plain regular beings, as well as the details of Victorian upper class society. If Jane Austen were to write a vampire-werewolf-steampunk novel featuring a cantankerous spinster, she’d probably write something like this.