Soulless by Gail Carriger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
In a Victorian England which hosts a not-so-secret society of vampires and werewolves, Alexia has the opposite problem: as the supernatural is an excess of soul, she is the opposite, preternatural, able to cancel out their abilities at a touch. This ability, and her nosy nature, sets her on collision course with a chilling plot.
I had mixed feelings about this book. There were places where it absolutely delighted me and nearly made me laugh out loud (which is a very high bar, for me); there were other places where I rolled my eyes; and a few that just didn't connect with me one way or the other. Of course, parody and humor are delicate things, and the balance of elements just didn't sit right with me - it was hard for me to tell in places whether something was intended to be hyperbole-for-humor or whether it was intended to be serious. Other readers' mileage may certainly vary!
Trying to discern this tone made my entrance into the book a bit tricky. I had trouble identifying with Alexia because she came off too casual about a dramatic turn of events. Once I got used to the tone, I began to enjoy it (though it does make use of some mid-scene POV shift, which has never been my favorite thing). The humor throughout is an absolute highlight, whether from the events themselves or the way Alexia thinks about them. Her family is a perfectly delightful caricature and yet entirely appropriate.
I never quite felt like Alexia led or motivated the events of the plot, however, so much as her general poking-about attracted the attention of antagonists already in motion. She acts and she gets results, but those results seem to be unintended (at least by her) and connected to larger events already in motion. She disturbs the "villains" of the story almost by accident.
The romance subplot is one of the primary places where the tone tripped me up. There is a sequence where my suspension of disbelief went wandering off into fields of heather because of the behavior of the male lead in very dire circumstances. Even if influenced by a werewolf nature - really?!
That said, I was very ready to write that romance off as a traditional love-hate cliche, all too well-worn, but the details of it are actually delightful and do a great job of incorporating supernatural culture, too.
Overall, I enjoyed this book enough that I would read the second, but would eschew a third if fell pray to some of the same pitfalls.
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