Friday, 23 December 2011

"Soulless," by Gail Carriger

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

I would like to thank my friend Sarah for recommending this series of books.  "Soulless" is the first of "The Parasol Protectorate" series and, having borrowed this from the library, I have now had to buy the next three for my reader because I couldn't stand to wait until after Christmas to get the others on reservation. 

Gail Carriger's series of novels is set in an alternate version of Victorian England, in which humans live slightly uneasily alongside a minority of vampires, werewolves and ghosts.  Her heroine is Alexia Tarabotti - statuesque, half-Italian, and therefore not conforming with the accepted English rose standard of beauty - who also happens to be preternatural (which means that physical contact between her and a supernatural being like a werewolf or vampire can make them human for the duration of her touch).  Vampires and werewolves might be in a minority, but preternatural beings are even rarer and are registered with the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR).  When Alexia kills a vampire who, unaware of vampire etiquette, tries to bite her without her consent, she attracts the further attention of Lord Maccon of the BUR - who just happens to be uncouth, devastatingly attractive and a werewolf.  This encounter with a rogue vampire leads Alexia and Lord Maccon into a dangerous mystery.

I already did the "Twilight" comparison with "A Discovery of Witches," but - much as I have tried to avoid the bleeding obvious - it also came to mind with this novel.  If "Twilight" was thought of as having an abstinence agenda, this has a get-your-well-built-male-hero-naked-as-often-as-possible agenda (which I personally found more enjoyable).  If Stephenie Meyer tried to gloss over the idea that, when a werewolf changes back into being a man, you are essentially left with a nude bloke, Gail Carriger positively revels in that nudity.  Lord Maccon is often naked in Alexia's presence at great length, so to speak, and in one entertaining instance is nude for pretty much a whole chapter (and they are reasonably lengthy chapters).

But far be it from me to imply that this book is mainly notable for hot werewolves.  Gail Carriger is inventive, irreverent and funny in a way that reminds me, in spirit although not in content, of authors I enjoy like Jasper Fforde and Janet Evanovich.  This novel also reminded me of "The Vesuvius Club," only I enjoyed it a lot more.  Although the fact that it made me think of other authors might make it sound derivative, there are elements to this novel that I thought were unusual.  In Gail Carriger's re-imagination of Victorian England she creates a detailed world of vampire and werewolf society and etiquette, as well as detailing a pseudo-scientific study of the nature of her supernatural and preternatural creations.  The idea of a preternatural being was new to me and, in Alexia Tarabotti, Carriger has a strong, independent and entertaining heroine.

This Christmas I seem to be going a little bit steampunk, a little bit alternative history, since, as well as Carriger's subsequent novels in the series (the fifth and supposedly last is due to be published in March), I have a couple of Kim Newman's Victorian re-imaginings to read or listen to on audiobook in my holiday.  If, like me, you feel a little bit old for the jailbait world of "Twilight," Gail Carriger's novels are a full-blooded alternative for consenting adults.

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