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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Soulless - Gail Carriger I was up most of the night reading this, I have to admit, although that statement has to be qualified by the fact that I suffer from intermittent crushing insomnia, and would have been up anyway. I don't always read when I'm up haunted by whatever it is that haunts me, although haunting is maybe the wrong word for how I feel when I'm sleepless. Maybe dislocated, like a piece of myself is tethered and floating above me. I'm not a huge believer in my own soul – please don't flame me, you may believe what you will about your own, and will accept your judgment to that end – but there's something about being sleepless that is soulless for me, a removal of something vital, so that awareness becomes the inverse of itself, unconsummated by dream and therefore not awareness.

The above paragraph is pretty emblematic about how I get during my insomnia escapes: slightly hysterical, overblown, and with a tendency to metaphysical blather. As such, Soulless was more or less the perfect companion. Day Ceridwen was pretty irritated with Soulless, because there's a lot wrong here: jarring shifts in pov that a good editor would have ordered be rewritten; ditto to the endless anachronisms and freaking split infinitives. This is a first book, and it shows, especially in the earlier sections before Carriger seems to find her style and stick with it, more or less. Although maybe when I say this, I just mean before I stopped paying attention and spent more time grabbing at the part of me that can sleep floating above my head. No, here, I'll stick with it: the opening sequence with our heroine Alexia dispatching a vampire while rolling in tarts is clearly intended to be comic and parodic in a way that believes itself to be more clever than it actually is, and the justification for Alexia's supernatural condition frustratingly dumb. But when things start rolling, and stop stopping every other page to shift into another genre and gets bloody well to it, then I started having more fun.

Here's the thing: I don't buy the soulless explanation for Alexia's condition for one second, and I'm not sure I'm supposed to. Maybe this is me giving Carriger more credit than she deserves, but hear me out. Alexia is told many things about herself by her family and her society: that she's unattractive, that she's past her sell-by at 26, that her plainspokenness is unwomanly and bad. I'll just pass over the fact that she comes to the understanding that she's worthy through the love of a man. (Or a werewolf. Um, you know, that romantic love as ego-boosting transformative power thing you've heard so much about.) Alexia has also been told she does not have a soul, because she has an empirically proven power over other supernatural beings: one touch and the were- and vamp- parts of those creatures retract, leaving them fully human and fully mortal. Okay, fine, cool so far. She is also told because of this she can't follow fashion, she does not have sexual passion, and, I dunno, some other stuff. All of this is bollocks, of course, feathers from horses, that sort of thing. She clothes-horses like the best of them; she's forever flushing and pounding when she gets near Lord Maccon.

So pretty much we have one established fact here: she has a measurable affect on supernatural beings. It's like the fact of her being a girl: she has a measurable vagina. (Not that anyone actually measures it, per se.) Having a vagina doesn't necessarily equate to timidity, though she's often told it does or should. She's told her preternatural abilities are based on the lack of a soul, and I find this similarly suspect. We're told lots of things in life that equate the demonstrable to the intangible, and this soulless business seems like one of them. Honestly though, I can't tell if this is what Carriger intended, and it's possible she believes her own back-story. Maybe not though: the bit at the end with the scientists trying to find empirical evidence seems to point this way though.

This is the other reason I liked this book, even though I find it somewhat embarrassing to admit, and I have to use whatever the girl version of Mulligan's Yardstick is to measure it: buttons are hot. So far into my foray into the romance genre I've been left cold, bored, pissed off, enraged, giggling and stupefied by the sex scenes. When it wasn't uncomfortably clinical, the sex in Dead Until Dark was laughable. Pleasuring the Pirate had throbbing vulvas and laving and magic toes; no more will be said of this. I would tell Skye O'Malley to go fuck herself, but I'm afraid that's already been done, ad nauseum. But here? I don't know, somehow it worked for me. There was no endless euphemism, and while events were rarely explicit, the logistics seemed based in a physical reality that I inhabit as well. I liked that Alexia continued to think while in the throes – she wasn't swept away by passion, in that way which makes her sexual choices outside of her control. I'm not saying that many or most of these scenes aren't extremely silly, but bodies are pretty silly when you get right down to it, as Meredith notes so well in her review. And one of the cooler moments, for me, was when she thinks calmly and briefly about how she won't be able to have kids, and then shrugs it off. I'm not saying women don't want kids or whatever - although often they don't - but the romance didn't hinge on procreation in that uterus = babies biological reductionism that plagues your more standard romantic fare.

I feel like I'm justifying my hubba hubba a bit too much here – putting on the critical hat and asking you to admire the feathers of non-rape – but ultimately it's an unthought response, one based on the buttons = hot equation that underpins my libido. Also, probably I'm more likely to...ahem...appreciate this sort of thing when there's a werewolf involved, because lordy, can I NOT get behind the whole vampire thing. (I've said it before, I shall say it again: vampires are high-functioning zombies. That does not get me hot in any way.)

I don't know. Again, there's a lot to be bothered by, if you think about it too much: the Gay Friend & His Fabulous Entourage, the fact that while there are plenty of female characters, the only woman of any substance is Alexia, and Carriger seems to shit on the other female characters just to make Alexia More Special. It almost fails the Bechdel Test – almost, but not quite. The steampunk elements tended to cosplay and window dressing more than I would like, but as I said before, excellent use of buttons. Day Ceridwen most likely would be putting more knives in than I am now, but Night Ceridwen had a less intellectual response, and Both Ceridwens can appreciate that. I reeled my soul back in and went to bed, and slept dreamlessly, which may be a strange comfort, but it's a comfort nonetheless.