A friend with similar tastes to my own recently lent me a couple of books she thought I would appreciate. She was quite right.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
This first book in the Parasol Protectorate series is a funny, romantic and supernatural steampunk novel that only made me want to read more. It is witty and somehow irreverent despite the very Victorian focus on manners, style, social niceties and not wearing awful hats.
The setting is well constructed, creating a world in which vampires and werewolves (and ghosts, oh my!) live in the open as part of society, without it being a horror setting. There is a system in place for those of the supernatural set (as immortals/undead are known) and they are for the most part respectable - although where would pseudo-Victorian society be without social stratification.
The main character, one Miss Alexia Tarabotti, is a wonderfully witty heroine. A 26 year old spinster whose unfortunate marital state starts with obvious Italian heritage, continues with a silly mother and proceeds with intelligence, an inquiring mind and an acerbic conversational manner. The author lists P. G. Wodehouse and Jane Austen as influences, and you can see these plainly enough. However I wish that there had been a character like Alexia in Pride and Prejudice, that book could have done with someone who wasn't afraid to whack people upside the head with a parasol.*
The mystery plotline is intriguing and well-done, although there's limited focus on the investigation work, the ploy relies more and things happening and matters coming to light. However I suspect that this is likely to change in subsequent books as the heroine is put in a better position for sleuthing and field work. Despite a very different tone it reminded somewhat of George Mann's Newbury and Hobbes series (which I also recommend - it's also steampunk but has a more restrained attitude and a sinister supernatural feel to it).
The romance is interesting and the reader can feel the emotions involved, which in my opinion is what makes literary romance work. The romantic scenes are handled in an interesting and fairly novel fashion that manages to be amusing as well as odd. As someone who is not fond of sexual scenes I felt that the author was smart to make me amused and bemused while describing what the characters were doing. It makes a nice change from reading romantic scenes that are presumably supposed to be sexy and erotic, but actually just leave me waiting for the plot to begin again. In this case it did very much feel like a part of the plot.
All in all a pretty good book. I look forward to reading more.
* Pride and Prejudice can be made more interesting by the addition of almost anything. The fact that the most popular mash-up involved zombies, the blandest type of undead, was just fitting really.