Gail Carriger

Orbit (2010)

ISBN: 978-0316056632

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts, syndicated July 2010

As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a book that has been calling out to me for some time. It’s Victorian urban fantasy! (or urbane fantasy, according to the author’s website, which is all kinds of awesome) The main character wields a parasol against vampires and werewolves! Mannerpunk! Oh yes. Completely my cup of tea. (did I mention the near-constant tea drinking?)

After resisting the purchase of this tempting morsel for so long, I snatched it up pretty instantly upon finally acquiring it, and read it over a couple of days. Considering how little book reading time I usually have, this is saying something. The story runs along at great pace, and with great humour. It really is like a cross between Jane Austen and PG Wodehouse, with added vampires, werewolves and steampunk.

The heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, is an outsider in elegant Victorian society. She has the misfortune to be plainer, older, and far more intelligent than is fashionable for an unmarried lady, and in addition to that, she happens to be without a soul. As a preternatural, Alexia has a form of resistance against the vampires and werewolves who are commonplace in Victorian London, but it has so far proved of little benefit to her. The final straw comes when she kills a vampire with her parasol (self defence, and poor manners on his part) and finds herself under official investigation by the incredibly boorish, irritating, offensively attractive Lord Maccon…

By now you should know whether this book is for you, or if you’d rather eat glass than consume it. As for me, it took a Great Deal of restraint not to order the sequel immediately. The cast of characters is very likeable and certainly sets up the reader to enjoy an ongoing series. (though the book itself is, like most urban fantasy, a standalone adventure) The world is compelling and delicious to spend time in – I agree with Ms Carriger that Victorian society makes so much more sense if you incorporate vampires (social mores and dress code) and werewolves (the military success of the British Empire).

Also, I have to add that I am one of those people who never finds werewolves remotely sexy (ugh, dog) – but Lord Maccon is one of the most endearingly cranky and seductive urban fantasy heroes I have come across in great time. He and Alexia are great foils for each other, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how things unfold between them in later books!

Soulless is complete and utter bustlepunk, with all that the word implies: witty, saucy, and extremely well dressed.