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The Society for Soulless Girls - Laura Steven (Haley Strassburger)

Updated: Apr 24

A copy of The Society for Soulless Girls by Laura Steven, posed with a skeleton key and a cat figurine

The Society for Soulless Girls by Laura Steven

-Release Date: July 7, 2022 (Electric Monkey); September 19, 2023 (Delacorte Press)

-Genre: YA mystery, thriller, fantasy, queer romance

Let’s talk about tropes!

Okay, it’s not the most conventional way to start a book review, but this isn’t exactly the most typical book for me to feature here on The Sinister Scoop, both because it came out over a year ago and because it’s a trad-published YA fantasy-thriller rather than a horror title. But this book captured my attention last week, and it deserves some recognition here; I’m referring to THE SOCIETY FOR SOULLESS GIRLS by Laura Steven, a dark academia Jekyll and Hyde retelling with a sapphic twist— though it was first released in the UK by Electric Monkey, I received my copy as part of a TBR and Beyond Book Tour for the US paperback release from Delacorte Press! The book opens with the dedication of “for the girls who were born angry,” and the story takes off from there, introducing us to sunshine-y Lottie, fiery Alice, and the storied halls of the elite Carvell College of Arts. The premise is incredible— ten years ago, the school shut down due to a rash of unsolved murders, and it reopens only for the North Tower to once again start claiming victims— and the twisted plot pairs perfectly with a stellar set of tropes: classics retelling, enemies to lovers, dark academia, secret rituals, traumatic pasts, red herrings, and so much more. Now, that sounds like a pretty lengthy list… but I promise you, author Laura Steven somehow managed to wrangle in these complex elements without the story feeling over-wrought or too busy even once— and that’s a difficult task!

To start, let’s explore that first trope I listed: a retelling of a classic story. This is probably the most hit-or-miss book trope for me for a number of reasons; I’m actually a pretty big fan of the classics, particularly when it comes to Gothic or Romantic-era fiction, and a lot of retellings attempt to capitalize on the eternal popularity of these stories without really capturing the qualities that helped solidify them as “classics” in the first place. Or the retellings keep so much of the original elements/material that it barely feels like a new story… as you can see, it’s a fairly difficult line to walk! The Society for Soulless Girls, however, seamlessly conveyed the magic of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde while also reimagining it in a brilliant new light. Instead of the busy London streets, Steven set her story at Carvell College of Arts— where protagonists Lottie and Alice find themselves shocked by some unexplained deaths… with the ominous undercurrent of a mysterious ritual keeping them eternally on edge. 

If you’ve spent any time in the world of upper academia, you’ll know that it’s pretty damn cutthroat, and Laura Steven crafted that tension into her story perfectly, both in the fierce competitive nature of girlhood and the ache of patriarchy’s fist around our throats as we fight for a sense of self-determination amidst a world that’s trying its best to tear us down. Though I often hate the descriptor of “enemies to lovers” in non-fantasy fiction, since the stakes are rarely high enough to fit that label, the tensions between Lottie and Alice (polar opposites stuck as roommates) are palpable, and intensified by the supernatural forces gripping them both tight— Lottie channels the spirit of Sister Maria, while Alice finds herself incensed by the evils deep within the school. Neither knows what, how, or why… but they’re determined to break free. 

As expected, I was easily captivated by the budding romance between Lottie and Alice; I’m a sucker for sapphic stories, and I also really connected with Lottie’s experiences with asexuality. But without a doubt, my favorite part of this book was how much its plot (and the uncloaking of the story’s true villain) resonated with my own research into the idea of the “monstrous feminine,” a concept originated by cinema theorist Barbara Creed. This theory questions the space women occupy in tales of horror and terror, positing how men both fear and loathe women’s innate power— and what that dichotomy might mean for our very souls. 

The Society for Soulless Girls is a dynamic story of love, friendship, and the sins of the past— it beautifully captured the energy of Jekyll and Hyde through its own unique interpretations of this classic tale, and it absolutely warrants a read.

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