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Literature / Soul

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Soul is a 2002 novel by Tobsha Learner. Containing two parallel plot lines, Soul tells the story of 18th century London newlywed Lavinia Huntington and her modern-day descendant, Julia. In the past, Lavinia faces dawning horror as she discovers her marriage to a respected British colonel is not what she believed, while in the present, Julia struggles with devastating marital woes of her own while engaging in scientific research that could change the face of modern warfare. As Julia's military-funded research forces her to ponder whether some people are genetically predisposed to kill without remorse, she also ponders the disturbing possibility that she herself might be descended from exactly such a person...

No relation to the Pixar film of the same name.

This work contains examples of the following:

  • Action Survivor: The novel opens with Julia, a civilian scientist embedded with the United States military in Afghanistan, surviving an ambush in which her military escort is killed.
  • Asshole Victim: Both Julia and Lavinia spend considerable time pondering whether the death of James Huntington was necessary or right. Given the way he is presented, however, the reader will probably have a hard time feeling sorry for the arrogant, smug, abusive S.O.B.
  • Attempted Rape: Happens to a young Lavinia. The perpetrator gets stabbed for his trouble.
  • Continuity Nod: The Bakairi Indians and Shakespeare's The Tempest, which figure prominently in Lavinia's storyline also make appearances in Julia's.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Attempted by Gabe when he tries to stop Julia from murdering Klaus. It gets subverted when he is forced to find an alternate way of breaking in and Julia decides not go go through with it of her own accord.
  • Bittersweet Ending: In the past, Lavinia is found guilty of murdering James and executed, but Aloysius and Aidan start a new life together in America. In the present, Julia decides not to allow her research to be used for the government's Super Soldier program. But thanks to Gabriel's meddling, the government merely purchases the same data from Gabe's corporate sponsors minutes later.
  • Depraved Homosexual: Colonel Huntington abuses his wife mentally and physically for her daring to be upset that he ignores her to go have affairs with young men.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Neither Gabriel nor Aloysius wind up with their respective love interest.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: That James is a rat bastard can't be disputed, but he genuinely cares for his lover Hamish, and Aidan, his son.
  • Extra Y, Extra Violent: Julia and Gabriel briefly ponder this as a possible explanation for why some of their subjects can commit violent acts without suffering PTSD.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The novel states very early on that Julia's ancestor Lavinia stood trial for the murder of her husband.
  • Fighting Irish: Every time Lavinia spouts an unpopular opinion, the bigoted British ladies she is forced to associate with chalk it up to her being this.
  • Genre Roulette: Depending on what's happening, when it's happening, and who it's happening to, Soul could be described as a 19th century adventure novel, a tragic historical romance, a work of modern post-feminism, and a military espionage thriller and have each description be correct.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: James Huntington, who considers his research of the religious rituals of Amazonian tribes to be his life's work.
  • Geodesic Cast: Each character in the modern storyline has an analogue in the past one. There's the long-suffering wife (Julia/Lavinia), her selfish husband (Klaus/James), her gay acquaintance (Polly/Andrew), her suitor (Gabriel/Aloysius), a jaded, cynical friend (Naomi/Lady Morgan), and so on.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Meredith is the alcoholic madame of a very disreputable brothel. But when her daughter and grandson need her, she is there for them, no questions asked.
  • Hope Spot: Lavinia's trial seems to be going heavily in the defense's favor, with both the phrenologist and Campbell being made fools of on the witness stand. Then, overcome by guilt, Lavina sabotages things during her own testimony.
  • Hypocrite: James flat-out tells Lavinia that she expects her to be faithful while allowing him to have all the affairs he wants.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: James believes in this trope 100% and he uses it as his entire defense for his actions. Naomi and Lady Morgan believe this trope to be reality as well, and use it to callously dismiss the pain of Julia and Lavinia respectively.
  • Interclass Friendship: Lavinia gets on well with Polly Kirkshore, the transvestite prostitute, and Samuel, the American slave.
  • Mushroom Samba: James's experiments with hallucinogens from the Amazon are pretty terrifying. And in the second case, fatal.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The reaction of Lavinia's father when he realizes that she wouldn't have wound up sentenced to death if he had just allowed her to come home when she asked.
  • Never My Fault: If James isn't blaming someone else for his own failings, then he's blaming it on human nature that he can't escape from. Klaus has it too, to a lesser degree, always saying some variant of "These things just happen!" whenever confronted with his own selfish, hurtful deeds.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Unbeknownst to Julia, Gabe has secretly been forwarding all of their research to the company bankrolling his scholarship because he seems to think it's the right thing to do. This renders a key decision Julia makes near the end of the story effectively moot.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Frequent mentions are made of a California politician referred to only as "the Candidate." While he is never named, we are told that he is a movie star who is "famous for playing an android."
  • Opium Den: At one point Lavinia and Aloysius have to infiltrate one in order to retrieve James who has gone on a bender.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Possibly-intentional undermining on the part of Gabriel reduces the entire DNA subplot to this.
  • Super Soldier: The government's ultimate goal with regard to Julia's research is to create these.