The format for this review is going to be a little different than my usual reviews. I don't want to only write long gushing reviews for things that I loved, but it can be really hard to write a good review of book that you didn't enjoy. I seem to have found a format that won't bore you with too much criticism, but hits the high and low points of the book.
I would probably never have picked Soulless up on my own; partly because the posture of the woman on the front looks incredibly painful and partly because the back cover made it sound like poorly written steampunk trash. However, my coworker Erica had to read it for a class and she decided to inflict this heavy handed comedy of manners on myself and our tech services guru.
I am being overly harsh. It is perfect shlock, but entertaining. The romancey bits are good, but I wish Ms. Carriger would go easy on the dialogue. The book opens with this gem of a sentence: "To put the pudding in the puff", and continues to use language to create perfectly ridiculous imagery. I think there were even a couple "Spiffy" comments throughout. (Spiffing I think was 19th century, Spiffy is definitely an invention of the 1920s).
The good points:
1. Conall Maccon, Professor Lyall, Lord Akeldama and Alexia Tarabotti herself. These characters are actually interesting and can be funny. As much as I hate the language her character development is pretty good. Totally unrealistic, but within the context of the world she's built, they make sense.
2. The World, this is why you keep reading this book. Vampires are sort of like bees, they live in "Hives" with a single female vampire as the Queen. Only female vampires can turn other vampires, and females often have a harder time surviving the transition. There are rogue vampires who do not live in hives and there is tension between the two groups. Vampires also have servants who are drawn from artistic classes, like artists and actors, who are known as Drones and hope to one day become vampires. Werewolves live in packs. Alphas can accept challenges for the control of different packs. They have clavigers, literally key-keepers, who run the household and manage the werewolves' transformations during the full moon.
Both these powerful groups have a representative in Queen Victoria's Shadow Council (The Protectorate and the Dewan) and they give military and social advice to the Queen. I found all this social hierarchy very interesting and it was so quietly dropped into the story.
3. I was worried this was going to an overtly mechanical supernatural love story. I wasn't completely wrong, but the steampunk actually takes a backseat to the supernatural love story. It provides an accent of eccentricity and a launching point for the villains, but it isn't overwhelming.
I have heard that the books in this series get better. This is Ms. Carriger's first book and you can definitely see that when you're reading through it. Even though it was a bit rough she certainly has some very good ideas. I don't want to completely write her off because Ms. Carriger has actually done a lot for this genre. She speaks at a lot of conferences and she was one of the early really out there female steampunk authors. There is a HUGE steampunk festival in May in my hometown (Waltham, MA) to benefit the Charles River Museum of Industry, and it attracts thousands of people. This is a genre that you can really create your own unique alter ego in. It doesn't have to be this particular book, but maybe you should think about giving steampunk a shot during your next trip to the library.