This book takes place in London during the Victorian Era. Miss Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster, but more importantly she's soulless. That means she can neutralize every supernatural creature she encounters. If she touches a vampire or a werewolf, they instantly become human once again, thus losing all of their powers. The effects of her touch are temporary, so as soon as the contact ceases, they come back to normal (or as normal as they were before that). Not many daylight people (how the regular humans are called) know about her abilities, but those in the government and in the supernatural community do. She is registered with the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR), a division of Her Majesty's Civil Service.
In the world Gail Carriger created, supernatural beings, such as werewolves and vampires, are integrated in the british society. They live out in the open and interact socially with the regular folk. Even Queen Victoria has a vampire and a werewolf advisor. In her mythology the ability to become a supernatural being is directly related to how much soul an individual has. Only those with an abundance of soul will survive the transformation. Since Alexia has no soul, she is considered a preternatural. Her kind is rare, and in the past they were used to eliminate supernatural creatures during what they refer to as the Dark Ages. After that came the Age of Enlightenment, when they became accepted members of society. I thought the whole idea of different amounts of soul in a person was a very original concept, something I had never read before. It was a refreshing spin on the supernatural phenomenon.
Alexia is a woman ahead of her time. She is well read, intellectual, extremely independent, direct, honest and brave. She is very interested in science and reads about all the new developments in the field. As I mentioned before, she is a spinster but not entirely unhappy about that fact. She is of italian ancestry, from her deceased father's side. Her skin is considered too tan, her nose too big and her figure too full. Her bluntness only diminishes her chances of ever finding a suitable husband. She isn't too concerned about that fact, so when she goes to a ball with her two blonde, blue-eyed, half sisters, she escapes to the library. That's where we find our heroine in the beginning of the book. Much to her annoyance, a vampire tries to attack her, forcing her to defend herself with her trusty parasol. She ends up killing the vampire, entirely by accident I might add, and consequently the authorities must be called. That's when Lord Maccon, handsome alpha werewolf and Chief Minister in Charge of Supernatural-Natural Liaison for the Greater London Area, enters the story.
Miss Tarabotti and Lord Maccon don't get along very well. They annoy each other, especially because they are way more similar than they realize. She thinks he is rude and sour. He thinks she is verbose and troublesome. You can see where this is going, can't you?
All I'll say is that their interactions are great. The dialogue is very witty and when things turn, well amorous, it gets really hot. The novel takes place during the Victorian Era, so even though I thought the scenes were incredibly steamy, they are very tamed if compared to most smutty paranormal books out there. I thought the restraint shown in those passages only made them more powerful and sexier.
The rest of the characters are fun and interesting. There's Lord Alkeldama, Alexia's good friend, who is a gay flamboyant vampire and a fantastic character, although I think he could have been a little more flashed out. Miss Hisselpenny is Alexia's best friend and her complete opposite, but I thought their relationship was a lot of fun. Here is an example:
"Miss Ivy Hisselpenny was a dear friend of Miss Alexia Tarabotti's. They had known each other long enough to trespass on all the well-fortified territory of familiarity.
So when Alexia sent round to see if Ivy wanted a walk, Ivy was very well aware of the fact that a walk was only the surface gloss to the proceedings.
Ivy Hisselpenny was the unfortunate victim of circumstances that dictated she be only-just-pretty, only-just-wealthy, and possessed of a terrible propensity for wearing extremely silly hats. This last being the facet of Ivy's character that Alexia found most difficult to bear. In general, however, she found Ivy a restful, congenial, and, most importantly, a willing partner in any excursion.
In Alexia, Ivy had found a lady of understanding and intelligence, sometimes overly blunt for her own delicate sensibilities, but loyal and kind under even the most trying of circumstances.
Ivy had learned to find Alexia's bluntness entertaining, and Alexia had learned one did not always have to look at one's friend's hats. Thus, each having discovered a means to overlook the most tiresome aspects of the other's personality early on in their relationship, the two girls developed a fixed friendship to the mutual benefit of both. Their Hyde Park conversation reflected their typical mode of communication.
"Ivy, my dear," said Miss Tarabotti as her friend bustled up, "how marvelous of you to find time to walk at such short notice! What a hideous bonnet. I do hope you did not pay too much for it."
"Alexia! How perfectly horrid of you to criticize my hat. Why should I not be able to walk this morning? You know I never have anything better to do on Thursdays. Thursdays are so tiresome, don't you find?" replied Miss Hisselpenny"
The plot is engaging and revolves around the mystery surrounding the disappearance of various vampires and werewolves. Of course our heroine gets tangled up in all the mess, which results in some hilarious predicaments.
Simply put this book is a delightful read. I enjoyed every minute of it. I think you will too.
Even the chapter titles are amusing, for example: Chapter One - In Which Parasols Prove Useful; Chapter Two - An Unexpected Invitation; Chapter Three - Our Heroine Heeds Some Good Advice; Chapter Four - Our Heroine Ignores Good Advice, and so on. The cover is also wonderful.
If you like Jane Austen (who doesn't?), Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and Steampunk, this is definitely the book for you. It's so witty, I was chuckling the whole time I was reading it. I'll definitely be reading its sequel very soon.
Soulless is the first book in The Parasol Protectorate series. Changeless is the second one, and the third, Blameless, is coming out in September 1st, 2010. I'm told the second book ends in a cliffhanger, so I might wait a little bit to read it, but I don't think I'll be able to wait that long. I'm already itching to get my hands on it.
I give it 5 out of 5 stars.