Soulless by Gail Carriger
In February 2019, I was on a science fiction and fantasy panel with Gail Carriger*. She sat next to me and, let me tell you, she was awesome. Dressed in clothes that, at least to my inexperienced eye, could pass as Victorian, every insight she offered was a gem. In particular, how she described the way she tailored 19th century London to fit the paranormal population of her novels.
So I grabbed a copy of Soulless* for a few reasons: it had the most reviews of any of her books, was the first in a series, and was cheapest (yes, you can see how I roll). I realized after I finished it that it is also her debut work, published about ten years ago; had I noticed this before reading it, I would have chosen another title because we become better writers with each book and I want to see the best!
In Carriger’s Victorian London, vampires and werewolves are accepted if not welcomed by society to the extent that they have representation in government, a shadow branch of parliament that only meets at night, of course.
What grabbed me about Carriger’s work while reading Soulless was her quirky use of language. Similar to what I try to do with Simon Wentworth in my Time Weavers books, e.g., Too Rich to Die*. Carriger’s Alexia Tarrabotti has a strong-willed, unforgiving relationship with the world. She interprets things in unique ways that draw us in and share her amusement. Even when the chips are down, the tension runs high, and the situation is hopeless, Carriger manages to maintain that tension without sacrificing Miss Tarabotti’s wit which is no small trick. Here are a couple of my faves:
“… neat as a new penny in a black dress and white apron.”
“It sent tingling shocks through Alexia’s entire body — a most delightful sensation, better than hot tea on a cold morning.”
As a lesson in craft, Soulless, provides a terrific example of PoV (point of view) technique. It’s written in the third person, usually in Miss Tarabotti’s PoV, but at times switches PoV from one paragraph to the next. I don’t read a lot of romance (and I suspect that Soulless is shelved in fantasy/paranormal/steampunk more often than in romance), but a romance writer (and damn, I can’t remember her name!) told me that rapid PoV switching is common in romance so that we can experience erotica on both or each or every side of the, as it were, ahem, equation.
The guiding rule (even in LitFic) is to restrict changes in PoV to chapter breaks or section breaks (i.e., when the author leaves an empty line or dingbats, like * * *, between paragraphs). I’ve broken that rule a few times in cases of intense action, like the scene in The Sensory Deception* when Farley has to choose between his best friend and the woman he loves, but am usually quite careful with it. The PoV switch rule helps keep readers’ minds uncluttered; few readers are conscious of the PoV, but if you bounce around without making it clear whose head you’re looking out of, they get a sense of dissonance and that’s when people set books down.
When she makes frequent, rapid PoV switches, Carriger sticks to the spirit of the rule by establishing the PoV immediately in every switch.
Carriger also provides some nice examples of reasonable uses of adverbs. Use of adverbs and adjectives usually indicate that the author can’t think of a good verb and, instead, decorates verbs and nouns with these paltry modifiers. In this sentence:
Miss Tarrabotti had been “born without a soul, which, as any decent vampire of good blooding knew, made her a lady to avoid most assiduously.”
See how much fun Carriger squeezes out of “assiduously?”
Another reason that I might have loved this book is that Carriger pushed one of my buttons. Forgive my indulgence, but for years I’ve been complaining to jewelers that they don’t make enough use of aluminum. It’s cheap, it’s light, it doesn’t tarnish — it’s got the best quality of gold without the two worst qualities (we can bicker over the color). At one point Miss Tarrabotti points out:
“They are making jewelry out of this fantastic new lightweight metal — allum-ninny-um or something. It does not tarnish like silver.”
Gail Carriger is obviously a genius.
Finally, as a physicist, I’m can’t help but notice mistakes when it comes to certain phenomena, for example, the timing relationship between lunar and solar activity. On the night of a full moon she writes,
“…those few hours after sunrise, before the moon climbed into the sky.”
But a full moon rises at the same time that the sun sets — it’s pretty much the defining quality of what it means for a moon to be full. I don’t blame Carriger, I blame the editors! (please, when you catch a mistake of any kind, always blame the editor.) Plus, ahem, there was this instance in The God Patent* when I made a similar mistake, not with a full moon, of course, but with the relative timing of sunrise and the position of a waning gibbous overhead. Fortunately I have plenty of watchful readers keen to point these things out!
< Frammice the rest of the way down >
*Links in this article marked with an asterisk are “affiliate links” which means that I get a small commission from Amazon if you choose to buy the book from them (it doesn’t affect the price you pay). I do not consider the links an endorsement of Amazon — shop according to your principles! That said, I recognize irony when I implement it, but without the tiny extra income generated by affiliate links these reviews would not be produced because, when I dove into this racket that we call being a novelist, I vowed that I would never write for free. Damn it!
And finally, if you’d like to receive my famous** Ransom’s Notes, sign up here and, if you ask, I will provide you a free copy of my novel The 99% Solution* because, in the spirit of The 99%, no one will be denied their right to read it for lack of material wealth! (**they’re not really famous).