book cover of   Soulless    (Alexia Tarabotti, book 1)  by  Gail CarrigerAlexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

For a book called Soulless, there isn’t much reference to what we think of as a soul.  In Alexia Tarrabotti’s world, soul is how people explain the supernatural.  Those who can be successfully changed into werewolves and vampires have an excess of soul, most have the normal amount, and a very few (like Alexia) are said to have none, thus explaining how she can negate the vampire and werewolf characteristics just by touch.

The relationship between Alexia and Lord Maccon was very well drawn.  I got a sense of how well suited they are to each other which can be rare – sometimes people just seem to end up together because the plot says so!  I look forward to spending more time with Alexia and Lord Maccon, and I hope that Lord Akeldama plays a part in the next book as he is a very intriguing character.

I picked up on a few Americanisms that slipped though the copy editing, but overall the Victorian atmosphere was well done.  However, the steampunk trappings didn’t quite work for me.

In one scene, when Alexia is riding in a carriage, the occupant shows off the latest technology – a combustion engine to raise a large sheltering parasol and a mechanical (hand cranked) water boiler.  I was jolted out of the story because I couldn’t (and still can’t) figure out how you can have a mechanical water boiler.  Unless this means using an early form of electrical power?  And a combustion engine to raise a giant parasol?  However large the folding parasol, this just seems like overkill.  I really think the two devices should have been powered the other way around.

To be fair, I have similar problems with the steampunk aspects of Catherine Webb’s Horatio Lyle books and Michael Pryor’s The Laws of Magic series, and that doesn’t stop me from reading them.  I just need to train my suspension of disbelief to extend to steampunk as well as  magic!

While some of the humour didn’t quite work for me – Lord Akeldama’s speech patterns and Ivy’s lack of fashion sense just seemed a tad contrived – I found Soulless to be a light and refreshing change to the darker urban fantasy I tend to read.  I’m definitely going to read the sequel, Changeless, when it is released in March 2010.

If you are curious about Soulless, why not listen to an excellent audio reading of the first chapter?

Other books by Gail Carriger that I have reviewed: Changeless