Soul is the story of Professor Julia Huntington, and that of her great-grandmother Lavinia Huntington. Julia, a renowned geneticist living in Los Angeles in 2002, is commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense to research the genetically linked propensity to kill without remorse. She comes to realize that she is linked more closely to Lavinia, a spirited intellectual Irishwoman suffering under the unjust standards of Victorian society, more than anyone could have imagined.
The book starts off rather jagged and confusing, but finally settles into a strong pace about one-third of the way in. The weaving together – and juxtaposition – of Julia and Lavinia’s stories is engaging, and I found that Lavinia and her doomed husband James jumped off the page.
The writing, in places, is maddeningly uneven – strangely shifting point of view within chapters and lovely description; stilted dialog in the modern-day sections and unique and thoughtful metaphors in the Victorian London sections. There are distracting Britishisms in the mouths of American characters, and odd descriptions of modern life (a firefighter walking into a bar for a drink dressed in full turnout gear?). The bottom line is that Learner seemed to be more comfortable with the Victorian characters and settings, which ultimately is good news for historical fiction fans.
Overall, however, it is an engaging book, and I would recommend it for fans of murder mysteries, psychological thrillers, and those with an interest in the society and sociology of Victorian London.