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Saturday, September 24, 2011

SOULLESS has soul!

by Anna Campbell

There are many things for which I'm thankful (including the fact that I was lucky enough to link up with the lovely gals who run the Romance Dish).

One is friends who drag me kicking and screaming to read books that just don't sound like my cup of tea (cups of tea feature strongly in the story I'm reviewing today!).

Bek, one of my chums from the Australian Romance Reading Association (why not join? Great group!), recently lent me a stack of her favorite reads, including SOULLESS by Gail Carriger.

Wow, I can see why this book got so much buzz when it came out. It's wonderful!

Firstly, and most importantly, this book is great FUN!

I can't remember the last time I got such sheer enjoyment from a romance. It's clever, it's witty, it's sharp, it's perceptive, it's quirky - and it's actually pretty sexy as well. The dialogue is prickly and sparky and zings with sexual tension. The heroine is gutsy and smart. The hero is hirsute, handsome and heroic. The tone is really individual - humorous high Victorian style if that makes sense. Wins all round.

As you can probably gather, I'm a convert!

The story is set in a Steampunk Victorian England with Almack's, corsets, dirigibles (which play a similar part to balloons in Regency romances) and steam technology powering all sorts of useful devices. Vampires and werewolves have come out of the closet (some literally) to play their role in society although elements of the human world still look askance at the Supernaturals. This world is so completely imagined and so beautifully portrayed, you just go with the flow. This book is a mind-boggling feat of the imagination.

Our heroine Alexia Tarrabotti is a confirmed spinster at 26. She's laboring under several disadvantages - a very silly family; a deceased Italian father who has passed on his Roman nose and his swarthy complexion; a stubborn, combative nature; and intelligence unacceptable in a marriageable female of this era. She is also that rarest of creatures, a Preternatural who can neutralize a Supernatural's powers. Vampires and werewolves become merely human while she touches them. The title 'soulless' refers to this gift of Alexia's.

In spite of all these strikes against her, our hero, the Alpha werewolf of the Woolsey Castle Pack, can't get her out of his mind. By the way, you see why I referred to the hero as 'hirsute'! Lord Maccon is one of the real treasures of this story. A gruff, cranky, shaggy Scottish earl who breaks into brogue when he's on an emotional edge - which is where Alexia tends to put him. Sigh.

When crisis hits this society, Maccon and Alexia are thrown together to solve the mystery. Vampires who should be there are disappearing and new vampires unexpectedly turn up. Only Alexia's mysterious powers can rescue the fragile peace established between humans and Supernaturals.

The story reminds me in some ways (if you discount the paranormal elements) of the wonderful romance between determined, strong-minded spinster Amelia Peabody and shaggy, awkward, but intriguing archaeologist Emerson in CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters. There's that same meeting of minds, that same reluctance to admit love's hit both of them like a brick, that same reluctant sexual awareness in people who have never previously considered themselves sexual beings. It's a dynamic I love.

I could go on and on about the glories of this book. It's peopled with intriguing secondary characters. There's the Oscar Wilde-ish Vampire Lord Akeldama who gets some of the best lines. His picturesque sidekick Biffy (Biffy the Vampire Player?). There's Maccon's unfailingly capable beta werewolf Professor Lyall. And I seriously want to hire Alexia's butler Floote. Gail Carriger has created such a rich world in the Parasol Protectorate. I can't wait to explore further!

So have you read SOULLESS? Are you a Steampunk devotee? When was the last time you strayed outside the tried and true in your reading and had your socks knocked off?

40 comments:

  1. Yes, I've read Soulless. And Changeless and Blameless and I have Heartless on my TBR shelf ready to be read. I love this series and really enjoy Steampunk. The last time I strayed outside of my tried and true was when I read Kevin Hearne's Hounded (as well as Hexed and Hammered) and I loved the trilogy.

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  2. Hey, Barbara, how cool you're another fan. I have to say it really didn't sound like my sort of thing and then I just devoured it like chocolate. I haven't heard of the Kevin Hearnes. I'll have to check them out. Isn't Lord Maccon cool?

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  3. I have not read any steampunk, but my daughter loves it. I should step out of my fixed genres more.

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  4. Soulless sounds really interesting. After reading this post i am really tempted to read it. I usually stick to my preferred romance genres but the few times that i have strayed i have really enjoyed reading them. 'The Twilight series' (before the release of the movies) and 'A Song of Ice and Fire' were two series that i was reluctant to read at first but eventually became hooked onto.

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  5. Mary, this really was unexpected. I can't speak for anything else in the Steampunk genre, but this was a great book.

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  6. Sonali, I have to admit I haven't read Twilight - maybe I should be brave and try it. Seriously, give Soulless a go. I thought it was a great read.

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  7. Sounds good, Anna. I'm always happy with your recommendations so I must try SOULLESS!

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  8. Hi Anna!

    Soulless is sitting on my shelf, along with many other books that I NEED to read! I'll definitely have to move this book closer to the top of the pile.

    I haven't read much Steampunk, but I'm a fan of movies like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Golden Compass.

    I'm starting to tiptoe outside the romance genre to read thrillers. This is a scary step for me because I'm not one who tolerates unhappy endings well. LOL Yes, I'm a romance reader/writer through and through.

    My ARRA application is making its way to Australian as we speak!

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  9. Thanks Anna. That sounds like a delightful book. I will look for it in the bookstore since I am always on the lookout for a good book...

    I haven't read much of steampunk though. I think the only one that I have read that can be considered as steampunk would be a book by China Mieville. But I enjoy all types of books as long as it's well-written and it certainly doesn't hurt when there is a terrific couple with great chemistry!

    May

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  10. Great review, Anna! I've been wanting to read SOULLESS for a long while now. I'm a huge fan of steampunk- I realize that it's not everyone's cup of tea but, I, too am happy that friend of yours had you read SOULLESS..kicking and screaming ;-)

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  11. Ohh, I do like the sound of this book. I love it when authors create and entire world for my enjoyment.

    How did the description of steampunk come about?

    The last time I stepped out of my favored genre was Kathryne Kennedy's Relics of Merlin series. This was another world builder that got my attention in a hurry.
    Relics of Merlin
    Enchanting the Lady
    Double Enchantment
    Enchanting the Beast

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  12. Yes! I just checked out the Kindle options and you can get all three for 19.99, better than 24 for the separate titles.

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  13. I haven't read these books you've recommended Anna, but will have to see about giving them a try. :)

    I tend to read Regency historicals, contemporaries, and some romantic suspense. I am normally not a paranormal, gothic girl, but I have read Leanna Renee's Strangley Beautiful series, and have enjoyed them. I admire her world-building and her twist on the story of Persephone.

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  14. Nope, but reading what you have to say about it makes me want to dive into it..

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  15. Kandy, I think this would appeal to you. It's got this lovely ironic humor that I think will have chuckling.

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  16. Hey, Tracy, cool you joined ARRA! Yay, you! They have a wonderful conference every two years too - the next one's in Brisbane. I actually haven't had much contact with Steampunk at all. Didn't see the films. So Soulless was all a lovely surprise to me.

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  17. May, I think that's the secret - the great couple and the great chemistry. Doesn't really matter what genre it is in romance and you've got a winner then, don't you? Hope you enjoy Soulless!

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  18. Okie, I think the humor would appeal to you. It's hard to describe and I kept looking for an excerpt but every one ended up being too long before I really got the flavor across. Alexia is a really wonderful narrator.

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  19. Dianna, thanks for the Merlin recommendations. I'll have to find them. They sound great. I used to read a lot of fantasy back in my 20s but not so much lately. So many good books out there! I just looked up the steampunk origin thing - great question. Turns out it was coined in the 1980s as a take on cyberpunk. Here's the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk

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  20. You're expanding my reading list again, Anna. I haven't read SOULLESS but it sounds like something I'd enjoy. I'll be placing my order!

    Btw, we're all very happy you linked up with us too! :)

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  21. Lisa, I read Percy Parker so you're right, I had dabbled in Steampunk! Soulless has a very different tone. I'll be interested to see what you think of it. I really like it. These days, I tend to alternate between historicals and contemps when I read romance. But this was really like a breath of fresh air.

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  22. PJ, how's the hangover after all the extended birthday celebrations? What a fun way to celebrate you and your big year. Hope you enjoyed it. I think you'd really like Soulless. It's so clever!

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  23. I've never read Steampunk; doesn't sound like my choice of reading material either. But, if you liked SOULLESS, Anna, I'll give it a try.

    I read TWILIGHT just because my sister, who NEVER reads that kind of genre, thought the writing was good and kept her intrigued enough to keep reading the book. I, however, read it, and kept thinking, "What? What flowing writing, what good story?" Def didn't like it.

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  24. Deb, that's the problem with recommendations, isn't it? I've had similar situations. Mind you, I've also read a lot of wonderful books recommended to me that I wouldn't have otherwise picked up so I always figure it's worth a chance. Hope you like Soulless (now the pressure's on, LOL!).

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  25. I can't say I have read any Steampunk, it just doesn't sound like my cup of tea but who knows maybe I would enjoy it. I am a little set in my ways and maybe a little picky with my reading. May have to change it up a little.

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  26. Virginia, as I said in the review, I'd heard quite a lot about this book and decided it wasn't my thing. And then I read it and wow. If you're thinking of shaking up your reading, it might be a nice one to start with. It's a really nice romance, first and foremost!

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  27. What a great post, Anna!!! This book sounds amazing. I haven't yet ventured into Steampunk, but everything I have heard about it fascinates me.

    PS -- I'm so glad you are with us too ;-)

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  28. Aww, Buffie and PJ, seriously you girls are such buddies!!!! Buffie, give this a go. It's more romance than anything else which means it's pretty easy to take for a mainstream romance reader like me. And the characters are really great!

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  29. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for another great review. I'm going to look at this author on the strength of your column. I keep hearing about Steampunk, but have not yet read any of it's authors.
    Could you please tell us more about the genre?

    I love YA and read all of the "Twilight" books as well as the lesser known "Host." But "The Hunger Games" trilogy just outdid them all. I've been recommending it to anyone who will listen!

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  30. Anna, I've not stepped foot into the steampunk world, but like many of the others, I will have to give this one a go thanks to your rec. It sounds so unique!

    And I'm also glad you're with us, too!!

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  31. FS, I've heard great things about the Hunger Games too. After my success with Soulless, seriously thinking of giving it a go. Thanks for the recommendation.

    I'm actually no great expert on Steampunk. I thought this was the first book I'd read in the genre until I was reminded about reading the Percy Parker book. There's a really good explanation at the Wikipedia link I put in: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steampunk It's like alternative history with steam powering the society rather than electricity. Corsets seem to feature strongly! With Soulless, there's a lot of actual history - Almack's, Queen Victoria, the British Empire. But it's all slightly twisted so we're on the British Isle, not the British Isles. Airships are part of the technology whereas they weren't around in the Victorian era. And the steam technology is way more intricate than it was in real life. Another element of alternate history is that vampires and werewolves became part of mainstream society in the renaissance. It's all very cleverly done.

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  32. Awww, Andrea! Hope you all love this book as much as I did. I thought it was hugely enjoyable! Can't wait to read the rest of the series now.

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  33. Thanks, Anna. I used your link and it did give me a clearer understanding of the concept. I'm going to read the books in order.
    Believe me, you'll enjoy "The Hunger Games. "I'm one of your FB fans so please find me there and let me know what you think.

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  34. Ok! I'll get it. :)

    I've passed over this one several times and paused. Now I'll stop passing and grab it.

    Thanks!

    Tami

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  35. FS, I've just ordered THE HUNGER GAMES. Doncha just love the Book Depository. Well, until the Visa bill arrives, anyway! Will definitely let you know what I think! I know people make fun of Wikipedia but I often find it has really clear explanations and all these wonderful links so you can explore further if you want to. I thought the history of Steampunk as a genre was really interesting too.

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  36. Tami, like you, this one's been on my radar for a while. I'm so glad Bek made me sit down and read it!!!!

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  37. Hey, thanks, guys, for a really interesting day. I thought I was the last person in the universe to read Steampunk. Nice to know there's a few other stick in the muds out there (in the nicest way, of course!). I'm back on SuperRomances next month - much more familiar territory for me. But it was nice to play away from home for a little while.

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  38. SOULLESS has been on my wish list for a while now. I have not yet read any Steampunk. Soulless intrigues me and I like the sound of the story.
    I read a wide variety of genre. If the book sounds interesting, I'll read it. It isn't so much the genre that is important. It is the quality of writing and the story.

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  39. Pat, I think you'll enjoy Soulless. Drag it off that TBR pile and give it a go. Hope you like it! I was really taken by it (as you can probably tell!).

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