Jess Faraday’s The Left Hand of Justice, published 2013, is a steampunk detective novel, set in 1820s Paris, with a lesbian romance of sorts.
Inspector Elise Corbeau is a reformed character, brought up on the streets of Paris where she made a living as an alchemist. She is an outcast from the police force – not only is she a woman, but her background in working with spirits has left her with dangerous enemies in the hierarchy.
This is a book rich in atmospheric and historical detail and there’s much to admire about it. The story itself is well written and the characters are described well – the inventor, Maria Kalderash, makes an attractive and interesting love interest, for example.
The three main characters in the book are all lesbians struggling to survive within a largely hostile patriarchy, and violence and control of women is a recurring theme. I do, though, wonder whether women in 1820s Paris had as much freedom as they have in this alternative universe of alchemy, spiritual powers and steampunk gadgetry.
I struggled a little to get into this book, and it was the promise of a love story between Elise and Maria that I think finally hooked me. For most of the book, I was reading it thinking, ‘Definitely 4-star, maybe even five,’ but found the end too baffling and vague.