Set in an alternative Victorian London, in which vampires and werewolves have been Establishment figures for centuries, dirigibles fill the sky and respectable young ladies do not move about town without a chaperon, “Soulless” tells of the trials and tribulations that befall the remarkable Miss Alexia Tarabotti after she unintentionally kills an impertinent vampire with the aid of a hair stick and a parasol.
Miss Tarabotti is remarkable not because of the stain of having had an Italian father from whom she has inherited unfashionably tanned skin and an over-proud nose, nor because, at twenty-seven she is still a spinster, nor even because of a regrettable tendency to read science and ask inconvenient questions, but rather because she was born without a soul. Being soulless gives her the ability to neutralize the powers of supernatural beings, cancelling out the over-abundance of soul that is believed to explain their existence.
“Soulless” is witty, fast-paced, and complex: It is delivered with a deftness of touch that keeps it from plummeting into the horrors of pastiche. It is far from simple to create a Victorian feel to a book while introducing supernatural beings and an alternative political history but Gail Carriger does it with an ease of execution and flair for linguistic nuance which enables me almost completely to overlook the misfortune of her having been born in America. This is, after all, not her fault.
“Soulless” provided me with a splendid diversion from its first page to its last. It was aided in this by skillful and playful narration by Emily Gray, who mastered not only the rhythm of the language and the pace of the humour but the wide variety of voices and accents that the book calls for.
If you feel the need, or simply are privileged enough to have the opportunity, to spend a few hours away from the cares and traumas of the early twenty-first century, then this reader recommends an excursion into a supernatural Victorian London in the company of Miss Alexia Tarabotti.