There are some books which are a mix of genres, like a steampunk novel with romance, say, or a romance novel set in a steampunk world. Soulless is most definitely the former. This isn’t a bad thing, not by a long shot, but it’s not really my cup of (very well-written and beautifully described) tea. Gail Carriger’s book is a fun read, rife with the social obstacle course which is Victorian England. Add in a healthy mix of supernatural beasties (werewolves, vampires and ghosts) and a steampunk-ish sensibility and you have all the ingredients for great romp.
Unfortunately, for me, the plot, a simplistic tale of bad guys trying to discern what makes a supernatural a supernatural, takes a backseat to the romance of Carriger’s main character, Alexia Tarabotti, a 26 year old spinster. If Romance is your thing, this is a great book for it. Personally, while I don’t mind a bit of lovelorn complications, the set-up here is fairly obvious from the introduction of the two involved characters and then it’s just a waiting game while it happens. It’s as if the rest of the story is there merely to thrust the two lovers together and I was slightly disappointed with that outcome.
Additionally, I was bothered by the world building a bit. There’s a lot of talk of “soul” – what it is, who has more or less of it and what effect that can have on you. But as things progress, it feels like Carriger doesn’t know the answer to the questions she’s raising, whether or not she’s revealing them to us. And then there’s the matter of the “Homunculus Simulacrum” which, in other words, is a Golem – right down to the word of power written on its forehead. And this, really, was the root of my biggest problem with the book. This is a world without magic. A world where the supernatural have an explanation, even if we don’t understand it just yet (but there are lots of theories and the whole intrigue part of the plot revolves around finding it). So why does this fake man work because of a word of power written on it. The unreasonable explanation given is that the letters are written in some sort of conductive material and so the word gives it power. Not only does this make no sense in the context of this world, but I was personally bothered by the fact there was no mention of the golem-like nature of the creature itself.
I know there are four other books in the series but at this point, I’m going to recommend them to people who like a little fantasy with their romance and not the other way around.