Series: Parasol Protectorate #1
Published by Orbit Books on 1 October 2009
Soulless was my first foray into the world of steampunk and it was quite a journey. This book is equal parts philosophical musings, Victorian etiquette minutiae, Gothic tropes and paranormal romance. At times the transitions between these sections can be a little clunky and even disorientating. In our opening pages Miss Alexia Tarabotti is attacked by a hungry, lisping vampire at a society ball. Rather than shrieking or attempting to flee like any normal Victorian female, Alexia grabs him by his nostrils and shoves him. She then whacks him repeatedly with her parasol after trading pithy comments, dispatches him. I knew at that moment I was in for a treat with this series. All is not well in the vampire world with new vampires popping up and existing ones disappearing. Queen Victoria demands Lord Maccon, a werewolf alpha, investigate as suspicion soon falls on Alexia.
Alexia reminds me of the indomitable Amelia Peabody, created by Elizabeth Peters. Both are unfashionably shaped and dressed, both have a habit of boldly striding towards danger rather than away and both are a force of nature. Alexia is a strange creature as she literally has no soul. She is not natural, not supernatural but preternatural. I would have expected her soullessness to have consumed more of the novel especially as she consults the venerable Aristotle but it only really manifests as an inability to be fashionable or creative and to neutralise supernatural qualities i.e. when touching a werewolf, they become human. She is not the most pleasant of characters and often comes across as shrewish in conversations with Maccon. I struggled to see what other characters such as her friend Ivy and Lord Akeldama liked about her. Perhaps it was because she was so refreshingly blunt compared to general society. Maccon on the other hand is clearly part beast, part man. Professor Lyall, his beta constantly has to remind him to follow society’s mores and he admires Alexia for her backbone as she is one of the few people to actually stand up to him. The love scenes are not overly explicit although they do drag just a little.
I enjoyed the world building, particularly the rules surrounding the vampire hives and werewolf packs but the secondary characters were a real highlight. I could have easily read a novel solely about Lyall or even Lord Akeldama, although I wish the latter had not been reduced to a stereotypical gay character.
As I write this review I realise just how nit picky I am being with what are essentially fairly minor quibbles given the positives. The novel is a delight and I do not want to give any other impression. Now that the soulless concept has been addressed, I hope the rest of the novels in the series mash fewer genres together so they flow a little better.