I’m so excited to be back chatting all things fantasy in 2022! Soulless is another book I often see recommended in reader groups so it’s been on my list for quite a while. I’m very glad I moved it to the front to start the new year.
Soulless (Parasol Protectorate 1) by Gail Carriger
Published: Sept 4, 2009
Book 1 of 5
Amazon: 1,510 ratings, 4.4 avg
Goodreads: 112,487 ratings; 3.87 avg
Buffy meets Jane Austen in the first book of this wickedly funny NYT bestselling series about a young woman whose brush with the supernatural leads to a deadly investigation of London’s high society.
Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.
Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire — and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.
With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?
Soulless is the first book of the Parasol Protectorate series: a comedy of manners set in Victorian London, full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.
As usual, we’ll start with oft repeated criticisms I found in negative reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads. If you’re new to the Book Chat, let me explain a bit more. I very much appreciate that not every book is for every reader. However, seeing the same points repeated makes me think as both a reader and an author. Additionally, reading reviews that the book is so good may not persuade me to read…seeing a reader complain that a vampire romance had vampires has made me read! 🙂 Negative reviews are always our starting point in Book Chat!
Trite bodice ripper/ overdone
World building unclear
Frequent POV changes
FMC is a Mary Sue/ too much emphasis on ‘ugly duckling’ details
I’ll start with this point as it was confusing to me. Point of view is often discussed in writing groups (and I’ll probably add it to the writer section). I think that has impacted my view as a reader. I’m used to both first person and third person limited/ deep – the narrator/ third person omniscient view was a jarring change. I do like getting the thoughts of the important characters, but I did have to look back and clarify to myself just who the thoughts belonged to at several points. I can’t say that’s the author’s fault but I do understand this critique from other readers.
This is another one that I’ll probably discuss below in the writer section. I read several reviews noting it wasn’t much of a steampunk read. That isn’t a subgenre I’ve read much in (though I would recommend Wolves and Daggers by Melanie Karsak) so I can’t discuss much on this perspective. I did go back to see which genres were listed as I do think expectations impact a reader’s enjoyment…or at least my enjoyment. There was a much stronger romantic element than I had expected which was great for me but not necessarily as good for other readers.
How does this relate to world building?
With romance leading the way, I expect the setting to be in the background. In fantasy, I expect it may drive the plot more which means I expect more details and world building. I think this reads more as a romance with the love story taking center stage over the fantasy.
FMC/ Bodice ripper
As noted above, seeing this as a romance meant I was okay with the ‘bodice ripper’ feel. Additionally, I expected the MC to fit certain genre standards in my mind. If you’ve ever read an Amanda Quick book, you may understand. The FMC is generally a bluestocking/ on the shelf maiden who no one thinks the hero could possibly want. That is the case here and there are a lot of references to the FMC’s ‘unattractive’ looks and personality traits. Of course, she is our heroine and comes out on top in the end! 😉 Romance does require an HEA/ HFN!
Overall, I’d give this one a 3.5 and recommend it more to those seeking romance instead of steampunk/ Gaslamp fantasy.
I liked the MCs and several side characters and was cheering for them. It was a bit too descriptive for me which means a slower pace than I’d like, but again that is necessary for any fantasy world building and often for historical romance (so many descriptions of clothes). I won’t jump right into the next books, but I do plan to continue reading in this world when I’m craving this style – fluffy, not too dark, rather calm (must be all the tea drinking).
“Her mama thought her a bluestocking, which was soulless enough as far as Mrs. Loontwill was concerned, and was terribly upset by her eldest daughter’s propensity for libraries.”
What are your thoughts, fellow readers? Whether you enjoyed or not, please feel free to share your opinion on this book. The US Amazon link is posted at the end for this one and our February read. You can skip the writing section to get there and enjoy another cat picture too!
For my fellow writers, it’s time to see what writing lessons we can glean from this one!
It’s a new year, but many of our 2021 discussions are following us for this new read: POV, world building, genre standards/ marketing. Let’s jump right into the fun!
POV – We all have our favorite writing and reading style. While I love third person with multiple POVs (scene changes/ not head hopping), I also believe the story must dictate the POV. For example, readers expect romances to include both POVs. The current urban fantasy trend is for first person POV for only the MC. For us to pick the appropriate POV, we must know our story…
Which leadings to both world building and genre/ marketing…
World building – To avoid info dump, we have to be able to slide in fantasy details within our narrative. We can explain how a character who is afraid of heights might not want to use the flying options in a steampunk world. A character’s previous injury leaving them with a limp could have been the result of an encounter with a werewolf. The better we know our characters and world, the easier it is to slip in relevant details to ground readers. I do think fantasy readers note and appreciate world building efforts.
Genre/ marketing – Once we know how we are telling our story (POV) and where it takes place (world building), we have a better understand of where we fit in the market. As I noted above, while I’m not familiar with reader expectations for steampunk, I do know that claiming a book as a romance means readers expect a happy ending.
Rules are made to be broken though, right??!
I often see this response in writer’s groups and it definitely has its place. However, I think it’s important to know that we have to know the rules in order to decide to break them. The rules for killing MCs in urban fantasy are different than killing MCs in a romance. You can decide to kill off the hero in both (it is your book), but you may regret it more in a romance.
Obviously, if we know our story best then we should be best at deciding the POV, world building, and genre/ marketing. I would encourage all to see your story not just from your perspective as a writer but also from the perspective as a reader. Knowing your comps (similar authors/ books) will aid in everything from your Facebook ads to your keyword targets for Amazon ads. It will also allow you to know when to recommend your book as a good fit when readers request recommendations. If you’re active in reader groups (and I strongly encourage this), you’ll see quickly that your book isn’t for everyone…no book is…and that’s okay!
Know your book – know your reader.
I’ve found that many of the negative reviews come from readers who had different expectations. For Soulless, those expecting steampunk seemed more disappointed than those embracing the romantic side. We can’t anticipate every reader response, but genre standards do come into play. This is something I’m focusing on for my next series. I want to have these things in mind as I continue to write the books instead of waiting until the I’ve published to figure everything out!
That brings this writing lessons ramble to an end for this month’s Book Chat. As always, feel free to share your thoughts as an author or contact me to arrange a guest post here.
Thank you for joining another Book Chat – I’ll add links to the main blog post for both our 2021 and 2022 chats in case you want to check out more! Until next month, happy reading and writing to all!
US Amazon link for our Jan read – Soulless (Parasol Protectorate 1) by Gail Carriger
US Amazon link for our Feb read – Urban Shaman (The Walker Papers Book 1) by CE Murphy