Monday, March 23, 2015

Review:: Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Title: Soulless
Author: Gail Carriger
Series: Parasol Protectorate, #1
Format: eBook
Rating: ★★★☆☆

This book is a cupcake. Very little substance and very sweet. It's a problematic cupcake in a lot of ways, if you look beneath the sprinkles. But there's some nutrition hiding in there somewhere.

In a Victorian steampunk world with werewolves, vampires, and the occasional ghost (which don't get much mention), Alexia Tarabotti is neither human nor supernatural... her complete lack of soul gets her the designation of "preternatural." In other words, when she touches someone who is supernatural (and therefore has too much soul) they momentarily turn

Miss Tarabotti is also a spinster, unmarried at 26 due to her aggressive assertiveness and Italianness. The weird obsession with her "dark skin" and "wide nose" starts to get under my skin as the book progresses. It's like, yes, we get it. No one likes dark skin. The reason this bothers me so much, I think, is that it feels like Gail Carriger is trying to make a point about brownness, but is afraid to go too brown.

Also, she's possibly undesirable because of her buxomness. There's some interesting size positivity in the book, but at the same time, it comes with the caveat of "well, it's an issue, but not for the right man who can overlook that for your other qualities." Rather than "It's okay to be the right size for you." 

There's a lot of obsession with werewolf hierarchy that does get under my skin as well, simply because it's based on things animal behaviorists have known to be untrue for a very, very long time. But whevs. At least the werewolves don't have magic clothes.

There's a lot of tell, and a lot of less show, when it comes to the worldbuilding. Whether it's the narrator telling us or someone having to explain to someone else, it feels like the worldbuilding is done in a rather stunted way. The dialogue tends to also not be that witty, like you expect from books mocking Society. It seems to make its mark more by being absurd, which is fine, but kind of ephemeral. Like I said... it's a cupcake.

All of that being said, there's a lot that Soulless does that I can approve of, even if I don't approve of the way it was done 100% of the time. Because it reinforces a concept that many people seem to be kind of... unaware of.

Men are not uncontrollable beasts that cannot do anything about their urges when a pretty thing is around. In fact, in Soulless, not even werewolves are uncontrollable beasts in this way. (Of course, the protag's ability to nullify the werewolfishness might have something to do with this, but...) There are many situations in which she could have been overwhelmed by her amorous werewolf and instead, he respects her. She's the one who pushes things forward.

It's her choice.

Now, the way that they go around this kind of made me groan and roll my eyes at times. And the fact that the spinster even needed to find someone to sex up... But when so many romance novels take an assertive woman and then take away all power from her once she's found the one, I think tales like this are definitely needed. Especially when the whole reason that the man was attracted to the woman in the first place was her strength...

And while Alexia does need help getting out of her scrapes from time to time, I didn't feel like the mens were always coming to her rescue. She actually could hold her own, in many ways. And there were times when they desperately needed her.

I still think there's something quite a bit problematic about the fact that she's the cure for the beast, but at least she's not being depicted doing it with a gentle hand.

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