Soulless 1: the manga by Gail Carriger & REM

a review by Nalini Haynes

Soulless 1 of the manga series is the first of the Parasol Protectorate series written by Gail Carriger converted into manga by REM, which also goes by the name of Soulless. Just in case you missed my review of the original novel, it’s here.

For those who came in late: Alexia Tarabotti, a soulless half-Italian, entirely English, twenty-six year old spinster, lives in Victorian England. Her kind is called ‘preternatural’ due to her soulless state causing her ability to turn a vampire or a werewolf human by mere touch. Alexia sits in a library at a ball in the Duchess of Snodgrass’ house, when a vampire with fang lisp and terrible clothes tries to bite her. She kills him in self-defence, promptly bringing Lord Conall Maccon, werewolf and member of the BUR, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, down upon her. Alexia has known Maccon for months, during which time they have had numerous conflicts, especially after an incident involving a hedgehog. After escaping Lord Maccon, Alexia consults with another longtime friend, Lord Akeldama, a gay vampire, about the bizarre appearances of newly turned vampires.

Soulless is half adventure and half romance with Alexia embroiled in the supernatural community playing detective to learn why new supernaturals are appearing and established members of the supernatural community are disappearing. Soulless is told in a very English voice, aspiring to the sensibilities appropriate to the era. There is a definite flavour of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility in Soulless.  Alexia’s soulless pragmatism, Maccon’s uncivilised behaviour and the villains successfully bridge the gap to this era. Carriger acknowledges the influence of Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and P.D. Wodehouse upon her writing but she has also combined steampunk and ‘Bit Lit’ to create a runaway hit. Soulless is a hit with a wide range of people, beyond normal marketing categories.

The manga version is part translation of the original and part re-imagining. The artwork has overtones of Japanese manga more than a realistic depiction of the characters. For example, I thought Conall Maccon would have a broader face, less pointed chin, more hair especially on his body and would have been more markedly larger than Professor Lyall. Instead Conall Maccon is more traditionally manga. The books remark repeatedly on Alexia’s full figure – she seems to transfer the calories from the treacle tarts to her breasts – but I was somewhat surprised at the manga’s fairly consistent focus on Alexia’s cleavage, especially in frames where I swear in real life she would have needed double-sided tape to retain her modesty. To bring this into context, there are scenes where Conall Maccon is naked as is Alexia (not usually simultaneously); the intent being naughtiness and innuendo without explicit sex scenes. Female nipples and male genitalia are always artfully concealed.

Artwork conveys the missing narrative text, sometimes adding in subtle details to which I was oblivious for at least some of my initial reading of the series. For example, Akeldama’s superficially feminine appearance coupled with a very masculine torso when stripped, and one frame where Akeldama kisses Biffy, convey much that I missed in my first reading of the first novel.

I love the colour plates and rich creativity of the artwork; I’d dearly love to see these manga books in a hardcover full-colour edition. The manga books are a fantastic addition to your Parasol Protectorate collection or a substitute for the time-challenged who just do not have the time to enjoy the delicious repast that is each of the original novels. Personally I want them all, I’ve enjoyed the series so very much. Highly recommended.