From the "back of the book":
London, 1889. Victoria is Queen. Charles Darwin’s son is Prime Minister. And steam is the power that runs the world.
At 17, Claire Trevelyan, daughter of Viscount St. Ives, was expected to do nothing more than pour an elegant cup of tea, sew a fine seam, and catch a rich husband. Unfortunately, Claire’s talents lie not in the ballroom, but in the chemistry lab, where things have a regrettable habit of blowing up. When her father gambles the estate on the combustion engine and loses, Claire finds herself down and out on the mean streets of London. But being a young woman of resources and intellect, she turns fortune on its head. It’s not long before a new leader rises in the underworld, known only as the Lady of Devices.
When she meets Andrew Malvern, a member of the Royal Society of Engineers, she realizes her talents may encompass more than the invention of explosive devices. They may help her realize her dreams and his . . . if they can both stay alive long enough to see that sometimes the closest friendships can trigger the greatest betrayals . . .
The beginning of the book is a little slow, as it sets up the alt-Victorian setting, and the plot that will catapult the rest of the story forward.
Claire is a really fun main character. You can sympathize with her right away... a smart young woman who society wants to cram into a boring life... but Claire isn't having any of that, and forges her own path much to the chagrin of almost everyone she meets. When she finds herself homeless, doesn't panic, but instead takes over the gang of ruffians that stole her car... and improves their lives as she makes them her friends.
Speaking of said ruffians, they're one of the best parts of the book. Snouts, who becomes here right-hand man, Tigg who adores her (mostly because she has a car...), Jake, who might betray her at any time, the moppsies, 8 year-old twins who are more street smart than most adults, and little Willie, who can't or won't talk.
After Claire becomes homeless, the plot picks up and becomes a really fun ride. All the characters have depth, and I loved spending time with them in their world.
What I didn't like:
Either the author doesn't have a really good understanding of physics, or things work differently in this story world. She goes a little too much into detail about why the internal combustion engine fails, and explanations of how "electriks" work are just plain hooey... sometimes less is more. But, I'll forgive that as this is alt-history, and I consider steampunk to be a sub-genre of sci-fi, so wonky "science" kinda comes with the territory.
Speaking of "eletriks", why the "k" in the spelling? Sure, it adds flavor, but my brain kept tripping over the strange spelling of an otherwise normal word. There were a few other such odd word choices in the story. As I said, they do add flavor and setting, though...
Overall, I give it four stars. (and the e-book is free, so why not. Although, you might do what I did and buy the next books in the series when you're done...)