Well, there's certainly no shortage of paranormal literary fun out there these days, and for those of us who haven't abandoned the genre quite yet, I am here to let you know that there are still some creative reads out there. I'm a little late to the gamAdd Imagee on the "Parasol Protectorate" series, which kicks off with Soulless, but ever since seeing the fun steampunk cover a while ago, it's been on my to-read list... and the contents are far more entertaining than the cover.

Alexia Tarabotti is soulless. It's not that she's cruel or mean or anything... she simply has no soul. This state manifests itself in a complete inability to dress with style (even if she can precisely imitate a fad, there's just no flair), a very methodical and scientific thought process, and the ability to neutralize supernatural creatures upon direct contact. You see, in this alternate 19th-century steampunk world, vampires and werewolves have been integrated with society (or at least they have in certain countries) and while there can be some tensions, Britain enjoys a rather progressive view on the matter of supernatural races. Of course, that doesn't mean that society is any less rigid on the truly important matters -- like a ladies' reputation, the proper apparel for a carriage ride, and a gentleman's assets (including his human versus supernatural state) as they reflect upon his eligibility as a suitor. Alexia is one of the very rare beings known as a preternatural, which earns the epithet "soul-sucker" from vampires and "curse-breaker" from werewolves. Unlike other paranormal hypotheses which would suggest such creatures lose their souls, in this world, it is a person's excess of soul that allows them the ability to survive the change into an immortal creature, should they make such a choice. (Otherwise, it seems that an excess of soul can lead to becoming a ghost upon death, which is not a permanent situation, as ghosts eventually get a bit batty as they fade away.) Alexia's touch would negate the supernatural abilities, rendering the supernatural mortal (no fangs, claws, or special final-death rules apply)... or resulting in an exorcism for a ghost should she touch its corporeal body.

The fact that Alexia is soulless, however, is not what makes her a bit of a societal outcast. That fact can be attributed to the fact that her father was unfortunately Italian (rendering her complexion unfashionably dusky), her nose is too large, she is a total bluestocking, and she doesn't give a fig for the usual feminine obsessions, though she does like more meaningful gossip. Her mother remarried when Alexia was young and so Alexia has two very silly sisters (the Misses Flootwill) to provide her very silly mother with some solace for the fact that her eldest was deemed a spinster at age fifteen. Alexia had long since resigned herself to this fact (and indeed, never minded in the first place) and so when some kissing occurs in the course of this novel, she's completely unprepared and has no idea what should be done about the matter. (More on that later.) Alexia does, at least, have two good friends on her side: Miss Ivy Hisselpenny has an atrocious taste in hats but is Alexia's only real girlfriend, and on the immortal side of things, Alexia has entered into the good graces of Lord Akeldama. Lord Akeldama is the most fashionable vampire in London -- a useful fellow to know should one need to know anything about anyone, as the young men who serve as his drones might appear to be silly, foppish dandies, but they are in actuality a most effective information-gathering network.

When the novel opens, Alexia is quite rudely attacked by a vampire who has no idea what Alexia is (otherwise he should not have tried something as foolish as an attack on a preternatural) and when the situation leads to some grappling and Alexia eliminating said vampire, Lord Maccon shows up to investigate. Lord Conall Maccon is a supremely eligible bachelor, despite being both Scottish and a werewolf; not only is he the Alpha of his pack, but he is the head of a government agency entrusted with supernatural matters. He's boorish, stubborn, gorgeous, a good two hundred years Alexia's senior and constantly at odds with our heroine... such strong emotions unsurprisingly lead to impressive passion (hence the kissing mentioned earlier). Lord Maccon manages to keep her name out of the papers with regards to the vampire incident, but nothing is quite so easy as it seems and before long, Alexia is mixed up in their concerns over randomly appearing and disappearing vampires that has Alexia becoming deeply involved in the supernatural worlds.

Gail Carriger is really quite fresh, witty, and charming -- and one can really only value that after enduring a few instances of writers who simply *try* to be fresh, witty, and charming, but fail. Her sense of whimsy is delightful and she revels in ridiculous situations. Alexia, meanwhile, muddles through them with... well, not grace, exactly, but she does at least retain her humor. While she doesn't have much self-esteem when it comes to her appearance, Alexia Tarabotti has no question about her own capable intelligence and ability to suss out any problems that come her way. Coupled with insatiable curiosity and a refusal to admit that something interesting might not concern her, Alexia is sure to be a fantastic heroine for many books to come. Soulless is one of those books that is rather perfect for my Nook, as I finished the first book and immediately purchased, downloaded, and began to read the second (and the third, for that matter, once I finished the second). I challenge you to resist a similar temptation -- when you finish Soulless, just see if you don't immediately consider how to best get your hands on a copy of Changeless. Do yourself a favor and have it waiting.

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