I've been hesitant to write a review on Soulless, as I feel as though I came into this book slightly misinformed and slightly misled - neither of which were the book's fault. I found it at the top of the "Best of Steampunk" list on Goodreads, and as well I found authors I respect giving it great reviews. Even based on the description, I had guessed this book was at the very least pseudo-steampunk, a fantasy world that just happened to feature supernatural creatures. Instead, I got a book set in a fairly generic 1800s England, with zero steampunk elements, short of (extremely) minor (and completely pointless) references to airships. I found a book that was so heavily vampire/werewolf focused that it felt like a Twilight for people who aren't totally dumb.
So, while I can only fault myself for getting into this mess, I'm going to review the book as honestly as I can. This obviously is not a genre I find remotely interesting (werewolf/vampire/etc), so I will try not to judge it too harshly for being of that ilk. The book itself follows Alexia Tarabotti, an obnoxious, spoiled and apparently ugly little pseudo-aristocrat girl, who is soulless - a condition that lends her the ability to neutralize vampires and werewolves with a single touch of her hand. Not a bad premise in itself, and something I haven't been exposed to, if this is a "normal" feature of this type of books. She manages to find herself stabbing a rogue vampire with a spike on her parasol - an item that the series is apparently named after, yet plays zero part other than her lamenting at it's lack of presence throughout the book. Introduced then is Lord Maccon, a 200+ year old Scottish werewolf, who is the head of a sort of supernatural control committee, backed by the queen of jolly ol' England. She also consorts with vampires, specifically a flamboyant and ham-fistedly gay one, who is predictably a princess of gossip and fills her in on current events. She goes on a rollicking adventure investigating rogue vampires and werewolves disappearing, flirting with an American scientist who is an oblivious buffoon, and falling in love with Lord Maccon, who she seems to detest but fall for the instant he makes a physical pass at her.
This becomes a general theme - Alexia cannot decide what the hell she feels or thinks, and it's obnoxious. If she was a 14 year old girl, it might have been more acceptable, but in fact she's a 26 year old woman, who is constantly lauded/reprimanded for being educated, as well as bold and outspoken. She flip-flops constantly, between being OMG SO OFFENDED!!!!
by the littlest thing, wow polite sensibilities etc etc, to literally grabbing a werewolf's penis just out of "curiosity". I mean, really. That might be the most annoying part; the inconsistency. Everyone seems to bounce around so much, behave erratically, and generally what is most convenient to the story. The story, however, is bland and at about the 2/3 mark I still had no real idea what the entire point was or where it was going. By the end of the book, I had no idea why the story went where it did, and it was extremely unfulfilling. However, I get the feeling that the average reader of this book is about a 15 year old girl, whose main concern was whether or not Alexia hooked up with her beloved werewolf lover.
The book lost me for the first time about 1/4 of the way in, when the SO PROPER AND SENSIBLE Alexia is out with Lord Maccon, who she believes she detests and that he feels likewise, until he grabs her and starts making out with her in public. At this point, Alexia realizes that she digs the dude and suddenly is putty in his hands. Henceforth, she answers to his physical advances with zero hesitancy at all times, and turns to preternatural jell-o. The book launches from seemingly-normal (if not boring) vampire/werewolf story to obnoxious teen romance novel, with about 5 pages describing their first kiss in the most hyperbolic way possible. It becomes quickly obvious that this relationship is going to be the main focal point, and really took away from anything redeeming about the story.
Alexia, who is apparently innocent in the ways of the world, seems to barely be bothered when she finds herself holding onto a completely nude Lord Maccon. Over the course of a couple pages, she goes from being shocked to not giving to craps, reaching down and grabbing his junk out of curiosity, then trying to angle herself so she can see his member. This is all described in splendid detail, including how it makes her "nether regions" feel.
I can forgive all this teenage romance BS, pointless werewolf/vampire BS, even some of the inconsistencies of the characters. The book's writing is adequate, and probably would have been enjoyable enough if not for all the things I disliked. No, the ending was the most unforgivable part for me, and what took this book from a 3-star to a 2-star. Spoiler alert ahead, if you hadn't already given up on reading this review. After a giant debacle that comprised the "story" of the book, where they root out a group of scientists who were capturing supernatural creatures, sucking out their blood and then making new supernatural killing machines, while wanting to commit genocide on all supernatural creatures (soooo deep, man), Alexia returns home to her bitch of a mother who calls her a slatternly whore or whatever. At this point, the goddamn QUEEN OF ENGLAND
shows up at their front door. The Queen. With ZERO guards, no Royal procession, just...nothing. Just her. Shows up, no biggie. The butler lets her in with no formal introduction, just "oh hey it's the queen, yo". The Queen proceeds to inform Alexia that she's been personally tracking her since birth because she's soooo special, and that she wants to promote her to some super-high royal office to deal with supernaturals or something. So after being a completely irrelevant half-Italian (which the story laments as being so.damn.terrible. the entire time) girl, she goes on one half assed mission that mostly involved her being kidnapped then rescued without having to do any actual work herself other than holding Maccon's hand, the goddamn Queen shows up and promotes her to high government office. Yeah, ok, whatever. Couldn't have possibly felt more cheesy or stupid.
Following that was the most obnoxious and self-indulgent werewolf wedding chapter of all time, that I'm sure made teenage girls squee with joy. I found myself, up until these final chapters, on the fence about this book - there were things I did not like, but the writing was alright, the story wasn't awful despite being bland and meandering, and it had some unique aspects. The ending, however, was such a dumpster fire that I had to drop it down a peg.
If you're a simplistic female who enjoys teenage romance stories involving creatures with fangs, then this book is probably right up your alley. It's much more high-brow than Twilight style drivel, or what you're likely to find on the supermarket book rack. However, as a serious "fantasy" it falls way short, and as a steampunk it's a joke.