Monday, 21 February 2011


Gail Carriger

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? Or 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?

Now that was just pure unadulterated fun. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.

Soulless is the first of three (currently) books featuring the stroppy, intimidating and really rather awesome (in the correct sense of the word) heroine Alexia Tarrabotti.

Alexia exists in a post-supernatural steampunk London filled with dirigibles, vampires and werewolves. Alexia herself is a preternatural being able to utterly cancel out supernatural abilities when in physical contact.

Having been quite rudely attacked by an unknown and lisping vampire whilst attending a soiree Alexia becomes embroiled in a plot to do all manner of beastly things to the supernatural elements within polite and refined Victorian society.

The book itself is as much a romantic romp as an adventure story. A fun mix of comedy of manners with swashbuckling daring-do. The plot of the book is solid if a bit thin but that's not where the charm lies. The real strength of Soulless is the central characters and the way they interact. Carriger has a lightness of touch and a deft sense of her protagonists that makes them utterly alive on the page. Alexia is deliciously modern but wrapped so strongly in the expectations and confines of her time that she is in constant battle to live her life the way she rightfully thinks it needs to be lived. Lord Maccon, the werewolf pack leader, government representative and hulking love-interest is a strong and unintentionally (on his part) comedic element whose emerging infatuation with this firebrand of a woman is driving him to rampant distraction and the oh so charismatic Lord Akeldama, well, he's just joy personified. I'd read volumes about him alone, think Mark Gatiss' Lucifer Box but with pronounced canines.

My favourite thing about this book though - it's a small thing in real terms but huge thing for me - is that this book contains, what I like to call, an ending, as opposed to just ending. Too often does a book get through the big set piece climactic battle / confrontation / expose only to then immediately fizzle out in a mad dash for the last page. Not here though as Carriger slowly wraps things up and allows us the luxury of seeing the aftermath of events (I almost cried along with Lord Akeldama as his wish came true) in much the same manner as we see their development.

I do think though that the cover blurb associating Carriger with Austen and Wodehouse is both lazy and detrimental making her sound anachronistic. Her prose is tight, energetic and very modern (as is her heroine) and, it must be said, it reminds me somewhat (although this is probably due mostly to my unfamiliarity with this specific end of the genre market and my perceived similarities between the principal characters) of Laurell K. Hamilton but without the vaguely creepy gun fetishism that always seemed to pervade that writers work.

On the shelf behind me I have the next two volumes of Alexia Tarrabotti The Parasol Protectorate novels and I am very much looking forward to getting to grips with them.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Cherie Priest
Audible Frontiers

Maria Isabella Boyd's success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty...she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago. Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn't pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials--essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay. Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who's been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea. And now it s Maria's job to go get him. He's dangerous quarry and she's a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice. And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.

I couldn't score myself a copy of the dead tree version of this as it was only published as a limited edition by some US micropublisher so had to settle for the audiobook.

This is the second of the Clockwork Century books that Priest has written. The third 'Dreadnought' (I love that word) is sitting on the shelf behind me waiting it's turn to be read. The first one, 'Boneshaker' was a cracking zombie(ish), gangster(ish), steampunk romp through a sealed Seattle filled with a poisonous fog that had turned most of the inhabitants into the living dead (yay!). It was good fun.

This time out Priest eschews such crowd pleasing concepts for a good old fashioned chase.

Maria 'Belle' Boyd (retired confederate spy) is hired to chase down escaped slave and sky-pirate Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey who in turn is hot on the heels of his stolen airship.

Both principles are cracking characters brought to life beautifully by quality voice-acting from both (one for him, one for her) readers (don't forget I'm listening to an audiobook here). The story is just the right side of complex to make for a good romp and there's more than enough intrigue and shenanigans to make it a great little read / listen.