Like many firsts, "Infernal Devices" is not at all typical of the steampunk genre. But it's a fun read, written with sly humor.
K. W. Jeter coined the term "steampunk" to describe his and his friends' postmodern neo-Victoriana writings. "Infernal Devices" is a convoluted mystery with wickedly subtle humor narrated by George Dower, a hapless and rather unlikeable heir to the workshop and clientele of his genius watchmaker father, who taught him nothing and abandoned him at an early age.
Dower is dragged from his quiet, impoverished life into schemes involving absurd secret societies, his father's leftover devices, a plot to destroy the world, a clockwork double, and a hidden race of London-dwelling fish-men. There are outrageous coincidences and a recurrent theme of deceptive appearances.
There are a couple of con artists whose language is so distinctly modern I expected them to be time travelers. But no, in actuality it's weirder and more interesting than that.
Frankly, the motto of this book should be "in actuality it's weirder and more interesting than that," as absurdity piles on top of absurdity and people, events, and devices are shown to be not what they seemed.
A few aspects nagged at me. None of the characters rise above stereotypes, most glaringly the women. The whole book has a winking feel of farce, although the narrator's earnest Victorian voice keeps it amusingly deadpan. It's amusing, but a little distanced.
Also, Angry Robot did a terrible job copy-editing this edition. There are little typographical errors all through the book. If that does not bother you, then this is an amusing read from the dawn of steampunk.