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Soulless Review and Gail Carriger Interview

Posted by -Slamel- On Monday, October 19, 2009

We have a special treat in addition to our Monday review today. It is our honor to have Gail Carriger, the author of the newly released SOULLESS, answer a few questions for us to lead into our review.

We first met Gail at WorldCon 2008, where she properly chastised Nick for not wearing a suit while speaking to agents and editors about his book. She soon realized just how awesome Nick was (Right Gail?)and the two quickly became friends.

Gail's sense of humor is a treat for all, so when SOULLESS was released we new that we HAD to have her as an interview guest for the review. We know you will love her as much as we do. So without further introduction, here is the interview.

In continuing our habit of asking authors to throw humility to the wayside, we would like to invite you to cast off the shackles of humility and tell us why you're fantastic.

Um. Oh kaaay... I don't take myself too seriously, I can speak in public, I'm a real live archaeologist, I know a lot about tea, and I can cook a mean breakfast.

Was being an author always a goal for you?

You betcha. Along with sleeping in Pompeii, owning a motorcycle, traveling to Egypt, and eating guinea pig. Four out of five ain't bad.

What were you trying to accomplish with SOULLESS, other than to cause worldwide, laughter-induced, soiling of pants of course, and now that it has been released do you feel like it succeeded in that respect?

I wanted to cheer people up and give them a good fun read. No real agenda. I also really wanted to be at least one person's favorite book, maybe even favorite author. Most of the time I feel like I succeeded, it may be too soon to tell. There is, perhaps, a secret hidden agenda incorporating little things like acceptance, tolerance, friendship, and communal effort, but that is kind of like the apple hiding under all the caramel and nuts.

Getting published is an incredibly daunting task. What specific challenges did you face getting SOULLESS published?

Ooo, good question. I was in the enviable position of first having to choose between two agents, and then having to choose between two houses. Outside of giving up on my PhD these were the two hardest decisions of my life. Then there was the whole hurry up and wait aspect of publishing closely followed by, oh no, it must be turned around in three days. But, believe me, I do know I could have _much_ worse problems.

Did you ever find yourself writing a bit of dialog and reading it back to yourself thinking "Wow. That's just TOO over the top..."?

Wait, have you read my book? Uh. No. That said, I did get the reign-in from my editor on a certain bit of dialogue in the second book. I neatly avoided the issue through judicious application of laudanum. (To my character, mind you, not my editor.)

We had a hard time nailing down a genre for SOULLESS and think comedic fantasy is the closest. How would you describe the Parasol Protectorate?

I like "urbane fantasy with a comedic twist." But the series really is a mix of various genres and I explore a few new directions in the following books. So long as they let me, I'm going to not just play in the sandbox but see how many sandboxes I can combine together.

What sparked the idea for the Parasol Protectorate?

I knew I wanted to write something with an urban fantasy feel but which challenged all the tropes of that genre: so I went with a light-hearted tone, steampunk elements, and a historical setting. Basically, I wrote the book that had everything I liked to read all in one place. I never thought it would sell, because I figured something with so many different elements wasn't marketable. Luckily, Orbit didn't agree with me.

What character are you most similar to and did you ever, in writing, find your own personality leaking through into your writing of that character?
I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. Actually, bits of my personality come out in three of my characters, one of whom doesn't appear until the second book. I'll leave my readers to guess which three.

How much fun did you have writing the naughty bits of SOULLESS?

None at all. I embarrassed myself horribly. I still get embarrassed reading them over. It's all so, well, intimate. I feel like I'm intruding on my characters' privacy.

What, other than being published, is your favorite experience with The Parasol Protectorate so far?

The first email I got from a librarian saying she loved the book. I know, I'm a sap.

Be honest. How often do you wear your Victorian and Steampunk clothes around the house, just for yourself?

Dahling, who says I wear _anything_ around the house when I'm by myself? Honestly though, I only wear full on Victorian costumes for appropriate events. I wear steampunk jewelry and little touches of steampunk garb most of the time when I'm going out or teaching (jodhpurs, brass deconstructed necklaces, vests, old-fashioned style blouses, button boots).

Do you name each of your parasols?

Nope. I name my machines, but not my clothing or accessories, duh. The car is Chanterelle, the bike is Carmen, the computer is Pippin, and the iPod is Gherkin.

Before getting published you were part of the SF&F literary community for a while. What changes have you noticed in these broad genres, and are these good or bad changes?

Everything is shifting. I need hardly say, the publishing industry is struggling to cope with both digital media and social media. Something's going to give soon and it sure as heck isn't either of those medias. The subject matter is changing too. Everything is turning YA. Teens have always read sci-fi, we just didn't tailor it to them before Harry Potter conquered all. Steampunk's struggling to be born. Hard core sci-fi is dieing. Urban fantasy is the sub-genre no one wants to acknowledge is there to stay, but it is. And I don't mean to be the first one to wade in, but I'd bet good money on epic fantasy shrinking into something more snack-sized and less falooting. As to forms? Hardback will become a luxury good. In fact, it already has. Are these good or bad? For most authors and wanna-be authors, by in large, bad.

Fill in the blank's here: If you like ______, you should read SOULLESS because _______. Be as serious or witty as you like...or just seriously witty.

Tea, there's so much tea in this book I had to change one instance to cordial instead because it was becoming a main character.

Do you have any teasers for us about your next book, CHANGELESS?

Three little words: Werewolves in kilts.

How far do you see yourself taking this series?

I have a three book contract. Bad boy, you know I can't say any more than that.

Nick wants to be a monster in your next book. What does he have to do make it happen?

Change his name to something more ridiculous? If he plays his cards right I could make him a mad scientist. Of course, I must say at this juncture, any resemblance between any character in my book and anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.

Gail, as always it's fantastic to chat with you. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

Beware the brass octopus.

Thanks Gail, love your face.

You're welcome, dahling, love your attitude.

Now! On to our review of SOULLESS. Let it be said, that since we met Gail, we have been anticipating the release of this book. We have been excited to see what she had to offer and how she would pull it off.

Honestly we were totally pleased with our experience reading the book. It is just pure and simple fun. It is a book that pokes fun at itself and it's subject matter liberally, and has a jolly good time doing it. (Ah crap. Gail has us talking like that now...) This is one of the most refreshing and downright entertaining novels we have read in a long time. Even though all of you, our readers, know its not OUR kind of book.

Gail takes the supernatural tropes we are used to and gives them all an interesting and unique spin, that is both familiar and approachable and yet different enough that we wanted to learn more about them. Actually, that's a good spot to take a step back and do what we should have already done (For shame EBR. For shame....), and intro the book.

The plot centers around a half-italian, food-loving, spinster, half-italian named Alexia and her encounters of the fanged and furry kind. That is to say, Vampires and Werewolves. Done to death you say? Well Ms. Tarabotti (Alexia) would like a word with you. And when she has something to say, you better brace yourself. Not only is she an outspoken, lively woman, but she has no soul. (We will refrain from making any sexist jokes here.) This titular ability gives Alexia quite an edge when dealing with the supernatural. She negates it. Sucks to be a Vampire. (Get it? Sucks to be a....yeah.) Its a hairy situation to be a Werewolf around Alexia... OK. We will stop.

What does Ms. Carriger do right? She is spot on with her comedic timing. She knows how to write humorous dialog, that's for sure. The banter between her characters is like the Victorian equivalent of Gilmore Girls (Crap again. Just revealed a bit too much...) It is snappy, quick, and laugh-out-loud (Don't you dare say LOL) funny. In fact it is the dialog that completes this book and makes it so much fun. Yes the plot, pacing, and writing are all good (which are grounds enough to buy the book) but the dialog is the diamond on the ring. After reading this book you will find yourself talking in an English (or Scottish) accent with all your friends, and wishing you were half as funny as the characters Gail has created.
The characters are certainly distinctive. Gail does an excellent job of giving each of them voice and personality in her writing. Its a treat to watch them interact. The interaction between Lord Maccon and Alexia is fun to read. It is obvious from the get go, that there is chemistry, sparks, and perhaps furballs between them. However we did think that the progression of their relationship, and how it unfolded, was kind of a let down. Hey. We are suckers for a bit of girly romance, just like the next guy. The other characters are all fun to get to know as well. Lord Akeldama is a fun, unique, albeit somewhat irritating, at times, character, and really stands out in the book.

Carriger describes the setting well so we get a real feel for her Victorian Semi-Steampunk environment. Though sometimes the description of dialog becomes a little much. Words like "particularly" in describing something crop up very frequently. In fact that leads to what is, probably, our biggest complaint about SOULLESS.

The repetition of certain elements. Yes, we get it. It is a comedic tool, used to create a laugh and it really works. Calling back previous jokes etc. However it does start to wear on us. For those who have read Robert Jordan's books, and are irritated by Nynaeve constantly pulling her braid, prepare yourself for something similar here. We are told multiple times how embarrassing Alexia's spinster status, and racial heritage are. It starts to lose its fluff and fun after a while.
Our only other concern was the decision making process of some of the characters. Since we at EBR assidiously avoid spoilers, we will leave you guessing, but some of the things the characters do, at bizarre times, gave us pause.
We felt like we were reading, primarily, a romance with a urban fantasy, steampunk, supernatural twist to it. We were hoping for a much heavier steampunk setting, but were given a paranormal romance. Keeping that in mind, we would like to remind our readers that we have been searching for more "Books for Chicks" and books by female authors. While this book certainly meets both qualities, we are going to put in Books We Like. Because we do. We don't need your permission. As Nick would say, 'You're not the boss of my body, I do what I want."

Seriously though, do yourself a favor and pick this book up. We aren't just saying that because Gail is a friend. We really, thoroughly enjoyed the book and were impressed by what Gail had to offer as an author. This is a book to read anywhere, in any setting or mood. A valuable addition to your library.
We are looking forward to Gail's second book in this series, CHANGELESS. Also, remember to have something handy to eat while reading SOULLESS. You will get hungry.

Recommended Age: 16 and up
Violence:Well there is a bit, and none of it is a big deal.
Language: Nothing we can remember.
Sex:A few naughty scenes, but nothing too graphic.


  1. Anonymous Said,

    Sounds fantastic, as a tea junkie I understands I need to by this book, it’s being added to my basket right now (multitasking)

    When you say you are looking for "Books for Chicks" by female authors, do you mean books for women, if you do, I am considering being insulted, I love Lynch, Erikson, Abercrombie and Martin! Or do you mean teenage girls?
    If I am not being insulted here I’d like to tell you that I have a seventeen year old niece who loves Maria V. Snyder and Mercedes Lackeys Five Hundred Kingdoms books.
    I know, I know, when I found out I got hear started on David Eddings Belgariad, which she also love - naturally.
    And what about Naomi Noviks Temeraire books and Lynn Flewellings Bone Doll's Twin trilogy?

    I am not stupid, though obviously not a genius like you guys. You clearly know about all of these books already, but I am not the one who mention you searching "Books for Chicks"

    Posted on October 20, 2009 at 7:31 AM

  2. Well, from my view, there are certain females that have absolutely no interest in many of the novels we have read and recommended. And they emailed us as an angry mob...OK not really, but they did email us asking for some novels that are essentially aimed at the female demographic. I totally get it.

    Luckily, Nick and I had a few novels on the list that fit this bill. Gail's was one of them, though it turned out to be enjoyable (in our opinions) to everyone. A great find, I think.

    Essentially, Books for Chicks is what I would consider books that are marketed specifically for females. Doesn't mean those particular females won't like other novels (like yourself and a bajillion others), we are just giving some variety to the lovely reading ladies.

    As a bi-product of this, I've become interested in finding the novels that the guys think "Oh, this is totally only for chicks" that they may really enjoy. Gail's novel certainly fits here, and I think we are going to find a ton more.

    As for Novik? I think she is one of the nicest authors I have met. We really should get around to reviewing her many books, so little time...

    Posted on October 20, 2009 at 9:21 AM

  3. Dragen Said,

    I was a little bit to fast when I made the comment about Novik, I forgot to log inn and therefore is came out anonymous.
    Lucky you who get to meet al these amazing authors! Being a genius is obviously very smart (ha!)
    Yesterday I started reading “The Edge of Reason” by Melinda Snodgrass, haven’t got that far jet, but it is really promising. Maybe something for you list?

    Posted on October 20, 2009 at 9:50 AM

  4. Meeting authors is great fun. It was especially fun watching Gail rip into Nick 5 seconds after meeting him. I gave Nick a hard time about it for the rest of the convention. Then, of course, we realized that she was awesome, and she (later) realized we were awesome as well.

    Posted on October 20, 2009 at 10:23 AM

  5. Fellfrosch Said,

    Watching Gail tear Nick a new one, almost the instant she met him, was definitely one of the highlights of that convention. Ah, memories.

    Posted on October 22, 2009 at 1:25 PM

  6. That and telling your German editor that I "used to be important."


    Posted on October 22, 2009 at 1:49 PM

  7. Raethe Said,

    Well, now I know who to hang around the next (first) time I manage to get out to a convention. You guys are obviously where the party is.

    Thanks for the review (as always). I remember thinking that this one looked interesting... so your recommendation is all I need to pick it up. ;)

    Well, that and enough time to get out to a bookstore...

    Posted on October 25, 2009 at 2:51 PM


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