“Miss Tarabotti was not one of life’s milk-water misses–in fact, quite the opposite. Many a gentleman had likened his first meeting with her to downing a very strong cognac when one was expecting to imbibe fruit juice–that is to say, startling and apt to leave one with a distinct burning sensation.”
At twenty-six, Miss Alexia Tarabotti is a spinster. With a dead Italian father, and a rather plain visage, she has made her peace with that. More troublesome is her soulless state, a fact known only to London’s supernatural denizens, including vampires and werewolves. Unfortunately, no one informed the newly made vampire who attacked her at the Duchess of Snodgrove’s ball that touching a soulless would steal away his supernatural abilities. When Alexia kills her attacker, she finds herself under investigation by Lord Maccon, head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and Queen Victoria’s deputy. But the investigation soon reveals that the attack on Alexia may have been merely the tip of a much bigger mystery.
I’m picking up Gail Carriger quite backwards, having started with her young adult Finishing School series, then Prudence, and now going back to the series that made her name, The Parasol Protectorate, beginning with Soulless. And it is a decidedly more adult series. It has all the wit and humour of Finishing School, but Alexia is not precisely a proper English spinster, and when she finds herself unusually attracted to the Scottish werewolf Lord Maccon, she is more forward than might be expected. And for his part, Lord Maccon isn’t at all bothered by her age, or her Italian complexion. And he seems to regard her unusual forwardness as an asset, even if it is sometimes rather vexing.
Soulless definitely has a good amount of romance mixed in, but it is also a mystery. The vampire that attacked Alexia smells of the Westminster hive, but no one there will admit to having made him. Meanwhile, Lord Maccon’s investigation reveals that rove vampires and loner werewolves have been disappearing for some time. And the incident seems to have brought renewed and unwelcome attention to Alexia’s soulless status. She longs to help solve the mystery, but is unable to convince Lord Maccon that BUR should give her an official position. Not only is she the subject of an investigation, but it would be completely unseemly to hire an unmarried lady of genteel birth. But she makes her own efforts, turning for counsel to her vampire friend, Lord Akeldama, who was also a fan favourite in the Finishing School series, but originated here in Soulless.
As I’ve come to expect from Carriger’s work, Soulless is a witty romp through an alternate, supernatural Victorian England, with an added bit of oomph in the romance department in comparison to the young adult works that introduced me to her oeuvre.