At San Diego Comic Con in 2010, it was announced that the Gail Carriger novel Soulless would be turned into a manga, with Rem, who previously has worked on Tokyopop’s Vampire Kisses, looking after the artistic duties. The book was published in chapters on the online manga magazine Yen+plus and now it’s being collected by the famous science fiction publishers Orbit and Yen Press.
Soulless is the story of a strong young woman, Alexia Tarabotti, armed with a silver-tipped parasol. Set in a Victorian era where ghosts, vampires and werewolves co-exist with humans, it begs to be in manga form. There is a mildly steampunk-ish element to the stories, but it’s the wonderful clash of literary genres here which makes Soulless so endearing, perhaps owing more to Wodehouse than Austen and not getting too hung up on brass goggles. The story relies on smart, witty writing and a wonderful protagonist facing many difficulties in the society that is mildly more complex than the historical one we know. Alexia has every right to be feisty; as well as her intelligence, she is a preternatural – able to transform the male of the supernatural realms into human form and make them vulnerable to mortal injury, a rare ability. She is soulless.
The manga quickly introduces Alexia as she sits with her intolerable family, as such they are, and remembers an incident from the previous night, where she killed a vampire. This involved the Lord Conall Maccon, who is a werewolf, while also being in charge of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry, a branch of Her Majesty’s Civil Service. We get to meet some very interesting characters: Lord Akeldama, a flamboyant vampire friend of Alexia, and Countess Nadasdy, queen of the Westminster hive. It soon becomes apparent that a pack of werewolves has gone missing and someone is biting to metamorphosis vampires who have no understanding of etiquette and are ‘roves’.
There is much unease, as Alexia as a preternatural is the sworn enemy of the supernatural, although she works well with Lord Maccon, who finds her as beautiful as he does meddlesome. The story takes some lovely twists, using Victorian interests to great benefit.
The manga’s artist Rem (Priscilla Hamby) is an American who grew up in Texas, and came to prominence by winning a number of prizes, including the prestigious Kodansha’s Morning International Manga Competition. She was the first North American to do so and get published for the Japanese audience.
Her artwork for Soulless is perfect. She has a very fine line, and a great eye for detail when needed; her architecture and technical elements show real beauty, while her skill at portraying the human form is without doubt. I was especially impressed by her lavish efforts of period elements, be it the costumes or carriages, and her skill at allowing the story to flow is apparent. There were a number of fully painted pages at the beginning, and this was a terribly unfair tease, as her fully painted artwork is to the highest calibre, but it in no way made me feel that I was receiving anything but black and white art of the highest order.
There has been for some time the realisation that good prose will make a good comic, be it Stephen King’s The Stand, or Gunslinger series, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game or Donald Westlake’s Parker, and I am pleased that Carriger’s prose has been given this treatment, and in such a caring and delightful way.
Overall, this is a really enjoyable read. Alexia is a wonderful character and one can only hope that the rest of the series receives the same treatment.