A couple of days ago I finished reading P. N. Elrod's first installment of the (soon-to-be) series Her Majesty's Psychic Service, called The Hanged Man. Set in a steampunk Victorian England -- where Victoria married a commoner instead of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, women were given the vote, and the strong arm of the law was assisted by a band of intrepid psychics devoted to criminal investigation -- this story starts out with a vivid and fascinating alternate history as the setting.
The main character, the young psychic "Reader" Alexandrina Pendlebury, is called out in the middle of a winter's night to do a reading on a dead body -- an elderly doctor who was found hanged. When it becomes obvious that (1) the hanging was not a suicide, and (2) the victim was someone Alex knows -- to tell you more about that would be unfair -- she's caught up in a web of deceit, double-dealing, backstabbing, and people who aren't what they seem. And if she doesn't figure out what's going on soon, there will be more than one corpse for the Psychic Service to contend with -- Alex's among them.
Along the way, we meet Alex's cousins, the wild Dr. James Fonteyn, the priggish Teddy Pendlebury, and her long-time rival, the sneering Andrina Pendlebury, who is one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting. The story is rife with twists and turns, and the characters are wonderfully drawn.
If I have one criticism of the story, it's that the main character, Alex, is herself not very powerfully written. I don't mean that she isn't tough -- she carries a gun, disdains the feminine society of the time, and isn't afraid of a good fight -- more that we never really get to know her all that well. Revelations at the end of the book (which again I won't spoil for you) give us a bit more of a lens into her person, but I like to be given more, to feel as if I know (especially) the point-of-view character, that I understand what makes her tick.
I realize this is the first of what will (with luck) become a series, so I'm sure we'll see further development in her character, not least through what seems to be a budding romance with her partner-in-crime-solving, the dashing Lieutenant Brook. And this is, truly, a minor criticism. The book is a page-turner -- sharply written, occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, and with some interesting paranormal twists that even I, paranormal fiction writer that I am, was caught entirely off guard by.
So I look forward with great anticipation to Elrod's next installment. She, and her protagonist Alex Pendlebury, are definitely off to a good start.