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Soulless - Gail Carriger, Gail Carriger Monsters are inevitably campy. That is a rule. You might not think it’s true, but you’re wrong. I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you, but the rule also applies to space. Monster stories and space stories range from those that deny the campiness and try to be really soulful social commentary to those that are hilarious in acknowledging the campiness and still manage to have something brilliant to say. There are levels in between those two extremes, but I’m trying to give you the framework of how I evaluate monster stories. Thankfully, in this book, Carriger embraces the silly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Soulless has anything brilliant to say, but it does not commit the sin of claiming to have soul where there really is none.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of what I’m talking about, so maybe it will make sense. (Note: if you hate people comparing movies to books, none of my reviews are for you, but especially not this one. I’m sorry, but comparisons must be made.) With vampires, you’ve got your Daybreakers and you’ve got your Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Movie. The former manages to be completely serious and still not make the obvious social commentary about finite resources that was sitting right there, waiting to be made. The latter is silly the whole time, but still has a nice, solid girl-power message. With space, you’ve got the obvious example of the Star Wars series. The new trilogy is outrageously campy, but never openly acknowledges it, so I’m left incredibly uncomfortable with everything it’s telling me. The old trilogy has one-liners and robot comic relief and whatnot to give you that silly sense that We’re In Space, Friends! Examples abound, and my theory is that camp is inevitable in these genres if only because they involve elaborate costumes. So, embrace the camp, writers! I can see it there, even if you don’t want me to. Trying to hide it makes me embarrassed for you.

I’m feeling like the same rule applies to the romance genre. Bodies are funny, so when there are these earnest descriptions of passionate sex in these books I’m laughing at them, not with them. And they don’t seem more passionate for their excess earnestness.

This book is a relief because Carriger combines monsters and romance and takes none of it seriously. It’s a pretty slap-sticky story, actually, and that made it difficult to get into to begin with, but after I got more used to that, I liked it. Basically, the story is about this girl:
Gail Carriger, grinning, in a shiny pink shirt and black skirt

She is a "preternatural" Cinderella, but then she meets werewolf Ewan McGreggor

Ewan McGreggor, looking hot, also grinning

and they reenact a scene from the show Moonlighting, but realize WAAAAY more quickly than Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd (thank god) that they were confusing love for hate and start getting’ it on. (Gerard Butler:

Gerard Butler, and I'll admit he's looking hawt

is the more obvious casting choice for our hero, but Ewan McGregor is perfect, and I’m still mad at Butler for The Ugly Truth, so he’s not getting any work from me.) To add to an already solid sexual tension, in the background you’ve got a solicitous but exasperated Jeeves, a Rupert Giles werewolf, Elizabeth Bennett’s parents, a Scottish accent, mad scientists, a steampunk tea kettle, and, best of all, an umbrella weapon!!! It’s true, there’s an odd running joke about sitting on a porcupine, which is kind of funny, but maybe going a little too far away from Buster Keaton and toward the Lil’ Rascals for my taste. You’ve got to take the lame whoopee cushions with the awesome banana peels, though, and no complaining. I think that’s what people mean when they say life’s not fair.

But, here’s what I want to talk to you about today: appearances. My favorite book when I was little was The Blue Castle. Valancy Stirling is told all her life that she’s ugly, but really she’s spectacular, and she gets to shove it in everyone’s faces. In Soulless, Alexia has pretty much the same character arc, so she probably gets an automatic pass from me just for that. That said, in my limited reading of the romance genre, the thing that I HATE THE MOST (other than the rape) is the idea that there is one, specific kind of beauty that you can describe using hair and breasts in a really vague, annoying way. That seems so false to me, because in my experience, no matter what I think of my friends’ appearances when I first meet them, they become beautiful to me after I know them. Same rule with enemies, but the opposite outcome.

So, we all get kind of riled up when people describe women really shallowly or assume that women will be one way or another based on their looks, and with good reason. I even think part of the point of Soulless is “Who knows why people are attracted to each other since there is no one kind of beauty?” which I like. But have we all just seen so many movies where beautiful women fall all over themselves about ugly men that we’re permanently mad and don’t care how meanly and shallowly we talk about men? I feel like these books are almost cruel in their stereotyping of the physical appearances of men.

In Soulless, we’ve got the hero, who is a growl and a half, no doubt, with his Scottish and his hungry eyes. But then we’ve got poor Mr. MacDougall, who’s a coward because he’s got a full figure. It’s pretty easy to see how our own genders are marginalized, and I guess that’s why we like it – it’s easy. But why do we talk about each other with such disregard and even cruelty? I’ll never forget the day, not so very long ago, when I realized men have feelings, too. It’s pretty terrible, but the thought had just never occurred to me before. I’m sure it’s not a usual thing to have that be a major revelation, but sometimes I look around at the little, petty meannesses between people, and I think maybe we all should be reminded . . . I don’t know . . . that people are not different? Just, not to be a jerk? Maybe it wasn’t mean in the past to stereotype men based on their body types because women were judged on looks and men were judged on money, but even assuming that used to be true, I don’t really think it is a valid excuse anymore. And certainly not in a book that seems like it’s trying to overcome stereotypes of the female protagonist. It bothers me when people are hurt by an attitude and then choose to perpetuate that same attitude towards others instead of reflecting on their own similar or contributing behavior.

Rant almost over, but I also have to say that this double standard of how women are allowed to act about men reminds me of Carrie-Bradshaw-type girls who will be like, “I forced my boyfriend go to a horrible party that he hated, and now I will cry into my pillow because he doesn’t give me DIAmonds.” I’m not saying people shouldn’t demand respect from each other, but demanding respect and being a jerk are not the same thing. Rant over.

So, that’s my complaint, but I really took more space ranting here about it than it took in the book, and I still liked the story. Carriger clearly understands my theory about the carnival nature of romance and describes the bodies with a silliness that is refreshing. I was laughing with her, not at her. Plus, it was only one book long! I can choose whether to read the next installment or not! The book was actually the length of just the one story. I can’t tell you how pleased that makes me. High fives all around for that! Overall, it’s openly campy and upfront about its lack of soul, and that’s really all I’d ask for from a monster romance.