Soulless by Gail Carriger introduces Alexia Tarrabotti, a strong willed spinster living in an alternative universe Victorian London. The universe of the Parasol Protectorate is much like ours, except the supernatural are an integral part of society, vampires introduced low necklines, and Alexia herself… is Soulless.
For Halloween I wanted to review one of my favourite, ever re-readable books. Soulless by Gail Carriger. It’s lighter fare than some I’ve read lately. That isn’t to say it’s stupid or trashy. It’s witty, sharp and charming; which has led to a well deserved cult following who engage in fan art, fan fiction, cos play and other expressions of adoration.
It’s just delightfully straightforward. An Ishiguro novel tends to feature an unreliable narrator, deep cultural context and more layers than the proverbial onion. It took me two readings to figure out that the insufferable child Ichiro wasn’t just an annoying kid, but was instead a metaphor for the Americanisation of Japanese culture and the decline of elder respect in that society.
By comparison, Alexia’s adventures with her sharpened wooden hairpins and silver tipped parasol are refreshing. A mouthful of treacle tart rather than Mentaiko with sake.
The plot centres on a mysterious killer targeting the supernatural community, plus Alexia’s budding romance with the untamed but respectable werewolf Lord Macon.
It all begins when an unaffiliated, uncouth vampire rudely attacks Alexia at an exceedingly dull ball…
Lord Macon is superficially Byronesque, and somewhat rough around the edges but with a humour, practicality and gentleness. Alexia on the other hand, is a heroine I wish I’d had as a young girl. Fierce, intelligent, practical but still so human. At one point, feeling rebuffed by Lord Macon, she decides to make the best of her evening anyway. She proceeds to befriend an interesting scientist with whom she can have intriguing conversations. Of course, the scientist isn’t what he seems, but nor is anyone else in this charming, romantic horror comedy.
Her best friend is a gay vampire named Akeldama, with an interest in both fashion and high espionage. He is a rove – a vampire who is not a member of a hive. His name of course, is associated with Judas Iscariot; a classic vampire trope. He may not have a ‘hive’ of his own but he does have a troupe of handsome, seemingly dizzy young men who roam London sourcing information for their master.
The minor antagonist, vampire Countess Nádasdy, who is Queen of her own hive (group / family of vampires), takes her surname from the husband of the legendary Countess Bathory.
Alexia may be Soulless – but she has feelings, and more scandalously desires! I half joke but female desire is still a taboo in many mediums.
It’s still more likely to see a woman have her throat slashed than see her orgasm.
The Director of Boys Don’t Cry mentioned that she had to make some cuts to get an R rating. No, not to the brutal violence. To the scene where Brandon makes his girlfriend cum, because it was ‘too long’ apparently. In a world where female pleasure is considered more obscene than beating someone to death, Alexia’s considered choice to seduce the Lord and rebuff the sensible scientist, despite potential social consequences, is sweetly subversive.
Jane Eyre would rather be homeless than compromise her virtue; Alexia considers that if she has no marriage prospects then she’d like a lover thank you very much.
In the End
All I can say is brew a pot of tea, break out the crumpets and read.