Why I couldn’t finish…

About the Book
Without a morsel of exaggeration, its publisher describes this debut novel as “a comedy of manners set in Victorian London full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.” At the center of Soulless’s “parasol protectorate” is Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a young woman who lacks not only a suitor but also a soul. And those are not her only problems: When she accidentally kills a vampire, it begins a series of events that she must set out to resolve without the help of any proper authorities. A charming mass market original.

I was told about a million times that I had to read Soulless because it was a charming romp through a unique Victorian setting. Plus, it was on my Tell Me What to Read list. Right now, with my health issues, it’s a perfect time for me to read something lighter and more entertaining than serious. Therefore, I decided it was time for me to give this book a shot.
Now, before I continue on I should say that I thought long and hard about writing this and finally decided that I should just do it because Carriger has a large enough fan base that she can handle a “review” of this sort. Plus, I should be honest about my opinions. I should also note that I’m not disrespecting her as an author at all, it’s obvious that she has talent. I sincerely hope this negative critique of a popular book won’t be taken as me bashing the authors ability to put pen to paper.
This is the second book I’ve read since starting this blog that I just couldn’t finish, which honestly surprised me. I expected, given that I was really looking forward to reading something lighter and fluffier, that I would devour this one, but I couldn’t do it. I tried. I promise I tried, but several issues popped out immediately which made me grind my teeth in frustration. I figured I was already in enough pain with my back problems; I didn’t need a book to add to my woes.
Because I didn’t finish this book, I’m not considering this a review.
First, let me say that the storyline really is unique and has the capability to interest readers and keep them hungrily turning the pages. Therefore, that wasn’t where I had my main problem. The dialogue, however, was so over-the-top it was obvious Carriger was trying far too hard to make her book come off Victorian. This extensive effort on her part was a huge cramp in the overall style of Soulless. It brought a potentially charming storyline to the point of being stilted, unbelievable and incredibly campy.
Eventually the style of dialogue oozes into every other aspect of this book. The world, which could have been very realistic, was so charming and antiquated in description it almost gave me cavities. The main character, a woman without a soul who was living at a time women were supposed to be demure, was overly clichéd to the point I almost couldn’t stand reading about her. For example, she is learned, strong and independent and attractive. Everything every woman protagonist is in almost any urban fantasy book I’ve read. The only difference (which was a plus in the book’s favor) was the protagonist’s lack of a soul. It almost makes me wonder if Carriger used the over-the-top dialogue to try to make up for any disbelief the reader could have regarding the protagonist actually fitting in with her Victorian setting.
While it is obvious that Carriger did her research and thought her book out before putting it to paper, the campy dialogue, sugary-sweet world and cliché female protagonist made reading this “charming” book too much of a project almost from the first page. While Carriger does have a large fan base, I cannot count myself among them.
However, despite my scathing “review,” I should note that Carriger obviously does have something going for her or else she wouldn’t have the large fan base she has. Her book has been called “charming” and “unique” among other praise filled terms and that should be noted. She’s doing something right, it just didn’t work with me, and that’s fine. Not every book can please every reader. While I won’t continue on with this book, or series, I will say that fans of urban fantasy who are looking for something a little different should check out Soulless. The charm, setting and characters will probably work for them where it didn’t work for me. 

12 Responses

  • Todd Newton

    I find it very interesting that you didn't like Soulless. It definitely worked for me; I thought all the pieces fit together to provide a cohesive presentation. Of course, not every book will work for every person, and that's totally fine. More power to you and your opinions!

    Good luck with the wellness. I'm afraid I'm only a passive follower to your struggles, as I don't make it my habit to "pray for people" or otherwise involve myself in things I have no control over. I'm about as passive as it gets, but I do read your updates so at least I'm informedly-passive. At any rate, hope things are on the upslope for you.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I am in the complete minority on this book. 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate them.

  • Jared

    Hi Sarah,

    See where you're coming from on this… I liked the book a lot (a little less keen on the sequels), but to quote Anne's review on PK, the "whimsey can be a bit much, page after page". I can see how it could drive someone off.

    And I think you've written a very fair "it just wasn't for me" sort of review.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    Thanks, Jared!

  • Seak (Bryce L.)

    Yeah, Jared's right, this is a very well-presented "it just wasn't for me" review. Now I'm torn as to whether I should read this because overall I'm pretty confident in your recommendations.

  • Sarah (Bookworm Blues)

    I think it's worth giving a try. I'm notoriously fussy with contemporary-ish books. They rarely jive with me for some odd reason. This is no exception. Most people who read this book really enjoy it. I've actually only talked to one other reviewer who felt the same way I do (so far).

  • Todd Newton

    Maybe it has to do with my relative newness to the Victorian/Steampunk setting. I admittedly haven't read many books in either direction (including the dreaded classics like Jane Eyre) so I don't have anything to compare it against to find it wanting. How familiar are you with them?

  • Liviu

    I disliked this one too badly and it's one of those novels I would have steered clear of, but for misleading early reviews – I Am Number Four and A Discovery of Witches are two more recent books I (fast) read and felt i badly wasted my time as with this one.

    The book is UF however you dress it and regardless of the steampunk setting and as such is the type of formula I strongly dislike and never could suspend disbelief for.

  • Maz

    I think you've done a really fair review there 🙂 I agree with pretty much everything you said, except it didn't not work for me. I've re-read it a couple of times since then, because I found it to be really quite pleasant brain candy.

    (I actually tried to recommend it to a friend who I thought would like paranormal romance but I got hung up on trying to explain "steampunk" to her. I said "Imagine if the Victorians had had really cool steam-based technology and airships…" and she said "But they didn't!!" At which point I gave up and changed the subject :P)

  • Robin Sullivan

    I appreciate a reviewer who is willing to give the good and the bad. You've always come off as fair so I don't think you should feel bad about not being one of the raving fans for this one. That being said…I've heard good things about this book. I'm not a big steampunk fan but I may still look into it.

  • I did read and enjoy the book a lot but as the series progresses I got quite annoyed with a few things. And they’re exactly what you mention here. I have yet to read the last in the series but so far, each book was a little less charming, unique, and funny than its predecessor. For the reasons you stated above.
    Most of all though, because what we learn about the world in Soulless is pretty much all there is to it. The other books don’t really bring us anything new and the clichés that I personally still found adorably charming in Soulless get old very fast.

    Don’t beat yourself up about having written a bad review. It’s a well written review and you don’t insult the author. That’s how it should be. 🙂

  • Amy M.

    Hello Sarah-

    I know this is an old review, but I just happened to stumble upon it and thought I would say for the record that you may not be in quite the minority on this one that you may think. I, for one, absolutely agree with you. If anything, I felt you were very charitable with Ms. Carriger. I bought this book on Amazon on the strength of the many positive reviews since I wanted a bit of fluff for a break, as you said. I likewise could not finish it. It is collecting dust in a pile on the floor of my office. I can’t see myself reading anything else by this author, and furthermore, I am pretty much “done” with steampunk as a genre. The first time or two it may seem novel, but “Victoriana plus steam” quickly ceases to be enough to draw and hold the attention of the reader, especially as it seems many authors wading into this genre are doing so at this juncture to score “cool” points (and sales) with readers of a certain age group or as a cheap plot device, hoping it will compensate for their lack of polish and/or skill as writers. This may sound harsh to you, but c’mon, you know it happens. This is not to say that ALL steampunk novels are this way, but…well. I personally find that at the end of the day, I vastly prefer the work of actual Victorian novelists. Thank you very much for sharing your excellent reviews!

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