Victorian London. A time of high fashion, strict etiquette, and supernatural creatures. Vampires and werewolves roam the streets and dot high society. The vampire hives and werewolf packs police themselves with a strict set of regulations to keep them under control and protect London’s citizens. The BUR, a sort of supernatural self policing agency, watches the streets, keeping vampires and werewolves in line, and investigates supernatural crimes and occurrences. Enter Miss Alexia Tarabotti, a lady of high rank, but unfortunately considered a spinster, as she is unmarried and into her late 20s. Alexia is no ordinary woman, however; she is known as a Soulless, a soul-less (see what they did there) human who negates supernatural powers around her. For example, by touching a vampire, all traces of vampirism vanish from its features and it essentially becomes mortal while Alexia maintains contact. This makes her a dangerous entity in the supernatural world, but a valuable asset for those who might wish such creatures harm. Her life is relatively normal, though even the lavish parties of the aristocracy bore this intelligent woman who wants more out of life. However, being attacked by a rogue vampire is probably not her idea of entertainment, nor is killing it with her own hands. The accident does, however, bring the quite handsome Lord Conall Maccon into her life. Maccon is the alpha of his werewolf pack, an Earl, and a high ranking member of BUR. He is also short tempered, a bit crass, and a touch rude. His beta (his pack second in command), Professor Lyall, is of a more genteel disposition, and frequently has to rein Maccon in, and give him love advice. Alexia lives with an oppressive mother who is overly concerned about social integrity (well, “overly” now, not then, I’d guess), so she’d welcome a little excitement now and then, but Maccon wants her to stay out BUR’s business and brushes off all her attempts to help. Trouble comes to her, however, when, while out on a walk with her friend Ivy Hisselpenny, Alexia is approached by Mabel Dair, a thrall of the vampire hive mistress Countess Nadasdy. Nadasdy has extended a personal invitation to Alexia, hoping to get to the bottom of the abnormal vampire attack. She seeks advice from close friend and flamboyant vampire Lord Akeldama, who suggests she talk to Maccon and warns her about visiting Westminster Hive on her own. Maccon, of course, is against it, but Alexia decides to go anyway. Meanwhile, Lyall is investigating the origin of the dead vampire, and learns that many vampires and werewolves have been disappearing. Nadasdy informs Alexia of some rather disturbing news, though it’s not nearly as disturbing as the strange creature that attacks her as she leaves the hive. Fortunately, Maccon comes to her rescue, and the two share a passionate kiss before they’re interrupted by Lyall. At a dinner party the following evening, Alexia finds herself ignored by Maccon, but captures the attention of an American named MacDougall, and successfully uses his attentions to make Maccon jealous. Maccon, confused by his pack instincts, confronts Alexia on her actions, which winds up with another passionate embrace…again interrupted, this time by Ivy. That night, Alexia is again attacked by the strange creature from before, but it’s chased off by the BUR vampire bodyguards stationed at her house by Maccon. Maccon returns the next day to warn Alexia that someone broke into BUR and stole her files. The conversation returns to their awkward trysts, and ends with Alexia’s mother discovering them in a compromising position. She demands the Earl marry her daughter, and wonder of wonders, Maccon seems down with this, but Alexia is not, fearing Maccon is only agreeing to preserver her dignity. With the full moon at hand, Maccon is indisposed, so Alexia pays a visit to Akeldama. Unfortunately, the same strange creature from before and its masters arrive to kidnap Akeldama, and take Alexia along with them. They find themselves in a strange lab run by a Mr. Siemons, from whom Alexia learns what has really been happening to the disappearing vampires, and why she has recently been targeted as well.
This was a pleasant surprise. I was expecting something in the vein of Twilight or Anita Blake, both of which I loathe. However, I found Soulless to be rather charming and pleasant, enough that I’m thinking about seeking out the novels it’s based on. Now, there is a lot of cleavage in this book. A lot. But don’t dismay, ladies, because there’s some rather delicious fan service for us, as well. Including several pages where Conall Maccon is walking around stark naked. The art is solid, and at times quite beautiful, especially on the handful of color pages at the front of the book, which make me wish the entire thing was in color. There’s a lot of detail in the artwork, particularly a lot of care in the clothing designs, and easy to read facial expressions. Akeldama is the most emotive, and he is always drawn with care and a captivating beauty. Surprisingly, despite his outrageous personality and sense of fashion, he’s not in the least annoying, and he makes an excellent friend and confidante for Alexia. He gives her love advice, and courage when she’s scared. He appears to be a goofy fop, but he’s really very sweet and charming, and a perfect gentleman. Basically the total opposite of Maccon. He may be an Earl, but he lacks most of the manners associated with that. Or well, he lacks them around Alexia, at least. He seems able to comport himself well around other women, though there is the impression that Lyall finds him to be quite the handful overall. He is a tad brutish, but then he is a werewolf, and a pack leader to boot, and doesn’t spend as much time as he should around normal (human) society. So pack instincts tend to overwhelm his sense of decency from time to time, which Alexia doesn’t really seem to mind, except for when his seemingly backwards actions confuse her. There’s a bit of silly back and forth over whether or not Maccon really loves Alexia, and la-di-dah. It’s plainly obvious, but Alexia, used to certain etiquette and protocol, and of course unfamiliar with the inner workings of a werewolf pack, add in the old fashioned sensibilities of the Victorian era…well, his mating habits are unconventional in her world. The courtship (if you could call it that) is actually written pretty well, even for the short amount of time it’s given to progress in this one volume. As for Alexia, well, she’s quite a treat. If the girls read Soulless to drool over Conall Maccon (which is very easy to do), then the guys can ogle at Alexia through the entire book. She is frequently dressed in low cut gowns, showing off her ample cleavage, which of course is not ignored by Maccon. And her skirt flies up on more than one occasion, revealing layers of Victorian under things. But never fear, female readers, for Alexia beats back vampires with her specially made brass parasol like a pro, and is never content to sit idly while the menfolk do all the work. She stands up to Maccon when she feels he’s wrong, and I’m happy to say that she enjoys pushing Maccon down and tearing off his shirt more than once. She takes charge, she desires to solve her own problems, and refuses to waste away in the background. She’s intelligent, beautiful, strong willed, kind, and carefully considers her emotions. And she can kick some ass. In the opening pages, she slogs a vampire with her parasol, whips out a hair pin, stabs him with it, dodges his attacks, and takes him down single-handedly. It’s a fun read. The dialog gets a little silly now and then, as it attempts to ape a Victorian style, but it mostly succeeds. The story does have some flaws (not to mention the fact that I don’t recall ever being told what BUR stands for), but they’re not enough to detract from how entertaining this volume is. I look forward to another!