I like romance in my books. Big fan of it, in fact. Big, sweeping, epic romance is right up my alley, and considering how fussy I am with most thinks I’m remarkably happy with any kind of romance. Heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, it all works for me. Hell, I’m even secretly hoping that Jaime and Cersie will work things out, those crazy kids.
So, yes, I like the romance. But, and this is an important distinction, I tend to not like romance novels.* The reason why I don’t like romance novels was clearly illustrated to me, in case I had forgotten, when I decided to read Gail Carriger’s 'Soulless.' 'Soulless' had a cool sounding plot, and a eye catching cover, and I’d seen it described as ‘mannerpunk’ which tickled my fancy, so even though I knew it was technically a romance novel, I still picked it up.
It’s set in your standard Victorian steampunk world, one wherein Vampires and Werewolves live out in the open and in relative peace with normal humans. Alexia, our heroin, is unfashionably Italian, and entirely without a soul. I could not stop thinking about the Simpsons' episode where Bart sells his, but Alexia seems to suffer none of the problems that plagued Bart. Instead the only real ramification seems to be that whenever a vampire or werewolf comes into contact with her, they are rendered wholly mortal.
Pretty cool idea. And there are plenty of those in this book. The world is well drawn and interesting, and the characters are fleshed out nicely. I was a big fan of Alexandria’s flamboyant vampire friend and his army of well dressed spies, who in my opinion did not get nearly enough page time. Of Alexia herself, well. Not a fan, let’s say. Which I’ll freely admit is all on me. I’m just not a fan of that particular breed of female character. Overly stubborn, quick to offense, ridiculously opinionated and Quirky with a capital Q. (First person to suggest that I dislike them because they remind me of myself gets a whollop.) They just annoy me, and Alexia is the worst I’ve seen in a while. But, despite my personal misgiving, she’d still well crafted and I don’t doubt many out there will like her.
And in the first few chapters there seemed to be a lot of potential for the plot. Someone out there is making “unlicensed” vampires, rogue werewolves are disappearing, and a mysterious society of academics has set up shop. And here’s where we come to why I do not like romance novels, (usually. There are exceptions!). Because too often a romance novel is not about the plot, it’s about the romance. Rather, the romance is the plot. All of the cool plot happenings in 'Soulless' operate in the background while the romance plays out in the foreground. The plot is really only there to give Alexia and gruff werewolf detective Conall an excuse to interact, and as the novel progresses it works only as a means to force them together and result in more makeouts. (And, really, is being held in a cell the best time to be undressing each other? I have to think not…)
I understand, obviously, that a romance novel is going to feature a lot of romance. I guess I just want it to not be all about the romance to the determent of everything else. Alexia’s soullessness was never really explored, and the mystery of the missing werewolves and newborn vampires was wrapped up neatly and ridiculously obviously. Like, so obvious that you spend most of the book assuming that it must be a red herring, because surely it wouldn't be that obvious...
Despite these negative words, I don’t doubt for a second that a lot of people would enjoy this book. (And I know for a fact that Carriger has a huge following). It’s well written, and the romance between Alexia and Conall is engaging. I just wish that there was more to the book then just the romance.
I doubt I’ll read on further in this series, and I’m sure it will be a while before I try another romance novel. (Although, if you have any recommendations for one that doesn’t stomp on its own plot, I’d be glad to hear it!)
*Please note that all comments about the romance genre are my own opinion. I’ve read very few romance novels and am in no position to comment of the genre as a whole with any kind of authority authority. Peace!
I bought this book