I read a lot, that pretty much goes without saying. Sometimes more than others, but that is how things go with work and family and all of that life stuff that insists on intruding on what we want to do. I read a lot of different sorts of things; nonfiction, fiction of genres of all sorts, gaming books, cook books, and so on; but if there is one thing I have always had a certain love for Victorian fiction. Perhaps it is from reading one too many Sherlock Holmes story as a child, or perhaps something of that era just speaks to me, but whatever it is I have always loved a good novel set in Victorian England. And then when you add in gears and steam, well that is just like ecstasy in print form for me.
I just finished reading a book that has all of that in spades. Soulless is the most engaging, entrancing and eminently entertaining book I have read in the past year.
Soulless, by Gail Carriger, is set in London, a rather different London than history records, for it is a London where the supernatural is not only common knowledge but also an accepted part of English society, having come out of the shadows, so to speak, during the Renaissance. The story centers around one Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster burdened by her half-Italian heritage, two quaintrelle half-sisters and the lack of a soul. Miss Tarabotti makes up for this lack of a soul with an over abundance of personality, a forthright manner, and a quite unladylike tendency to think for herself, to the great consternation of her mother, step-father and the local Bureau of Unnatural Registry office.
The characters come to life as the world the inhabit unfolds along with the story, gradually immersing the reader in both the world and the narrative without feeling forced or as though you are being lectured to in lengthy scenes of exposition. Ms. Carriger’s characters are infused with a certain life to them, even those that aren’t technically alive. They as a whole feel like real people you could meet on the street, in a dark alley, or at some society soiree.
I will admit that the opening scene did not grab me as perhaps is could have, it may have been that I was not in the mindset to sink myself into the world before me, or perhaps my thoughts at the time were tied up a bit too much in my own writing. Either way, I read the first dozen or so pages and set the book aside with an intention to come back to it in that vague, nebulous “sometime”, and it was a full week before I gave it a second thought. I am glad I did. Picking it up again and reading of the aftermath of the events that were so ruinous to Miss Tarabotti’s dress, and spelt the end of that poor, defenceless treacle tart, and by breakfast with the Loontwills the following morning I was fully engrossed in the book. Every few pages I found myself laughing out loud, I simply could not put it down until it was finished, and even then I found myself wanting more.
The language of the tale is beautifully crafted, the Victorian terms folded neatly in so that they are a part of the whole, with clues enough in the text that even if the reader is not intimately familiar with the terminology of the period the meaning is still quite clear. Her word choice on the whole is a part of the delight of the novel, taking a more Shakespearean approach, using the common language of the period rather than the more commonly seen formal Victorian, giving her the opportunity to use such delightful words as addlepated and flibberty-gibbet. Then I am one of those people who loves words and etymology, and seeing such uncommon, but expressive words used with no apologies is a wonderful thing to me.
I am looking forward to sitting down with the two remaining books in the Parasol Protectorate series; Changeless, which is available now, and Blameless, which will be out later this year; but first I do think I shall have to give Soulless another read. It is well deserving of that, and of many more reads in the future.