Saturday, 4 February 2012

Soulless/Changeless by Gail Carriger

Soulless follows Alexia Tarabotti, a twenty-something spinster living in an alternative Victorian London where supernaturals have been ‘out of the closet’ for several hundred years and have assimilated into mainstream society.  Alexia herself is a ‘preternatural’, a personal born without a soul.

I received this book on Christmas Day – along with many others – and it was the first one I picked up.  After that, I found it pretty hard to put down.  By the end of Christmas Day I was almost half-way through, a fairly impressive feat considering all the other shenanigans going on that day.  I finished it up on Boxing Day.

I’ve read quite a lot of primarily world fantasy fiction, particularly those featuring the same kind of supernatural beings present in Soulless – vampires, werewolves and ghosts.  This novel could feel very samey, but it doesn’t, and it isn’t only the Victorian-era setting which has marked it apart.

The mythology behind the supernaturals seems logical (no sparkling, thank goodness) and the main character being preternatural is interesting, as it’s something I’ve never encountered before.  There’s even an attempt at theorising the reason being the supernatural state (in this instance, relating to the amount of soul a person possesses) which I found a refreshing change from just being expected to accept it – or rather, with the characters accepting it with little more than a raised eyebrow.

The writing is sharp and witty – there were several occasions when I laughed out loud – and the descriptions are excellent for dropping the reader straight into this bizarre version of Victorian England.  The characters feel developed and while some of the relationships are perhaps a little predictable, I don’t think it really matters.  It’s comfortable in the way that your favourite story is, knowing that everything’s going to come together in the end.

Ah, the end.  This is where things get a little difficult, not for Soulless but for book two, Changeless, which I read soon afterwards.

You see, the first book ended so well that I immediately went on amazon and bought the sequel.  The ending of said sequel, however, made me want to throw the book out of the window.  Not to say that it wasn’t technically well written – quite the contrary – but I have a personal dislike for conclusions which completely screw over a character we have, for many thousands of words, been made to care about.  I think I just found it doubly annoying because the first book did the exact opposite, thus luring me into a false sense of security.

I have, therefore, not yet ordered book 3 (Blameless) because I don’t really fancy reading the misfortune of the protagonist, even if – eventually – it will likely turn out well.  I daresay I will read it at some point, but right now it feels like too much effort.

I don’t know how unusual I am in these kinds of reactions, but surely I can’t be the only reader who will look forward to a book that starts with some level of contentment but will avoid one that starts with misery?

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