In the interest of full disclosure, I want to let people know that I consider Gail to be a friend, and she is a semi-regular on the SF Signal podcast, which I host and produce.
Vampires. Werewolves. Steampunk. Humor. What's not to love? That's an excellent question. I don't think I would have picked up the original books from Gail Carriger, The Parasol Protectorate series, had I not met Gail and found her to be intelligent, funny and passionate about her writing. She convinced me to read her books by being Gail, and that's impressive since, at its heart, The Parasol Protectorate's first volume, Soulless, is a love story, and I don't read love stories. Yet, I read this one and loved it, and when the time came, I picked up the graphic novel of the same name: Soulless: The Manga, Volume 1.
Miss Alexia Tarabotti lives in Victorian England. She enjoys high tea, reading books, the company of her very best friend, Ivy Hisselpenny, and the vampire, Lord Akeldama. Alexia's family sees her as a spinster, too old to marry, and a bit of an oddball for not caring one whit about it. She lives with her mother, step-father, and two step-sisters. When a starving vampire attacks her at a social event, he is shocked to learn that Alexia is a preternatural, a “soulless” being who has the power to render the supernatural mortal through touch. She is forced to kill the vampire, which only complicates matters. Lord Maccon, a werewolf, a member of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, and the Earl of Woolsey, arrives to investigate. He and Alexia spar verbally, but she is sent home. The next day, she is invited to visit the Countess Nadasdy, Vampire Queen of the Westminster Hive. It turns out that there are rogue vampires being found who are unattached to the hives, including the vampire Alexia killed. Worse, vampires and werewolves are disappearing, and all supernatural eyes are turning towards Alexia. Who else but a preternatural could be responsible? Leaving the Westminster Hive, Alexia is attacked by a wax-faced man. Lord Maccon appears as if from nowhere and chases off her attacker. He also makes it known that he is very interested in Alexia—romantically interested. Alexia must figure out who tried to attack her, who is taking the supernatural citizens of London and what she wants to do about Lord Maccoon.
This adaptation originally appeared in Yen Plus Magazine from Yen Press, and is illustrated beautifully by REM (Tokyo Demons; Vampire Kisses). If you're unfamiliar with the style, manga refers to comics created in Japan by Japanese creators and artists. In America, we tend to have manga-style comics categorized as “Western manga” or “English-language manga,” to name just a couple of terms, and Soulless would fall under these categories. The style, look and feel are all the same—the only distinction is the language and country where the comic was created.
REM brings the characters to life in this very faithful adaptation. Alexia stands out from her family and in a crowd, despite the fact that she thinks she’s quite ordinary. She's not. Lord Maccon, Professor Lyall, Ivy, Lord Akeldama—although they don't look exactly the way I imagined them, they’re captured well. I've been a fan of the manga style since the day I first walked into a comic book shop, and this volume doesn't disappoint. Extra points for Lord Akeldama, whose gender is quite difficult to tell at first. Everything that drew me into the novel—the humor, the characters, the language—is all intact.
The volume contains the entire adaptation of Soulless, and includes a few full-color pages but is otherwise done in black and white. There is nothing distracting in the art. Everything is very clean and well-done. I would suggest that any fans of Carriger's novels pick this up, and if you haven't yet dipped your toes into the worlds of The Parasol Protectorate, Soulless: The Manga, Volume 1 is a great, fun place to start.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.