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Soulless by Gail Carriger

It's occurred to me recently how little I read for fun. I love books, and the act of reading brings me a lot of pleasure and happiness, but I rarely pick up a book and say, "This looks fun. I'm going to read it." I usually read to learn (about certain subjects, or about writing, or about the publishing industry--it's amazing what you can learn about publishing just by falling for all the marketing gags and reading what the publishers want you to read), or to feel, or to be transported, but I rarely, if ever, read because I just want an entertaining diversion. I have romantic comedies for that.

This weekend, though, was all about fun reading for me, unexpectedly. I read two YA novels, both romances, and I also read Soulless, which bills itself as "A novel of vampires, werewolves, and parasols." Soulless is sort of steampunk, but not really, I would say, although my grasp of what steampunk actually is is a little vague. In any case, it's set in an alternate Victorian world where normal, polite "daylight" society coexists with a tolerated but not entirely integrated supernatural society, mainly consisting of vampires and werewolves with the occasional ghost and golem. The heroine is Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster in her mid-twenties who has an Italian father (dead), a distinctive nose (protuberant), and an interesting problem--she doesn't have a soul?

Okay, so the not having a soul thing is a little bit, um, squiffy (as Alexia would say) to me. I don't get it, mainly. Alexia has emotions and a personality and stuff, just no soul, which makes me question what Carriger's definition of "soul" actually is, but suffice it to say that Alexia's lack of soul allows her to effectively neutralize the supernatural--when she touches a vampire, for instance, they lose all of their power and speed and their fangs disappear and they basically become human. When she touches a werewolf, they morph out of their wolfy state, that sort of thing. They call her a "preternatural" and supernatural creatures are sort of at a loss with what to do with her.

Except one, that is. That would be Lord Conall Maccon, sexy Scottish alpha werewolf and secret admirer of Miss Tarabotti, who is, in fact, quite a pistol and a lot of fun. It might seem a little cliche to have two characters sniping at each other throughout the book to cover up their sexual attraction, but it really works here. They often do arrive quite naturally at cross purposes, but they also tend respect each other's choices as they are effectively undermining each other's plans. Anyway, you can tell exactly why they like one another, but also exactly why they can't bring themselves to admit it. Awesomely, this doesn't prevent the reader from enjoying plenty of sexy scenes between them. Lord Maccon is a man of instinct, and, well...I'm trying to be demure here, but I think you're picking up what I'm putting down. Hot making out and sexiness ensues! There, I said it.

There is a plot in the book, but the romance is just so potent that I couldn't bring myself to care about it. Not to say that it wasn't well done, just that the romance was better done and more interesting. There are a couple of fun side characters as well; Lord Akeldama, Alexia's main gay, is also a vampire and very fancy. And there's Ivy Hisselpenny, who wears ugly hats and gasps when Alexia mentions kissing (not to mention other things! heyooooo! What?).

Anyway, what I'm saying is that it's almost summer and it's time to start reading beachy things. I almost never read beachy things except when forced, but this summer I'm going to make a concerted effort, because I deserve to live a little. So I picked up the next book in the series, Changeless (these suckers have quite the aggressive pub schedule--Changeless came out last month, and Blameless, the third one, comes out in September--all the better for me!). More sexiness awaits!*

*To be clear, I wasn't under the influence of anything when I wrote this post, I'm just in a very good mood. I know that's no excuse for using the word "sexy" so many times in one book review, but, as the French say, that's life.

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