Steampunk is a rising trend in the Young Adult market - and as a fan of the genre with very little by way of reading material, I was really excited to see steampunk in the upswing! But did the first book of Kady Cross’ Steampunk Chronicles, The Girl in the Steel Corset live up to my expectations?
Thanks to Harlequin Teen & NetGalley for allowing me to pre-read this title.
I would marry this cover. But that’s not legal… yet.
Title: The Girl in the Steel Corset
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles (Book #1)
Author: Kady Cross
Publication Date: 24 May 2011
Publishing House: Harlequin Teen
This was one of those books I was so excited to get a preview copy of. Why, you ask, is this review being written so long after the due date? Answer: I couldn’t get into it. That’s a lame excuse, and I know it, but that’s all I’ve got. Fortunately, once the book got going (around the half-way point, let’s say) it quickly became (if not exactly riveting) a pretty good read.
In essence, the book is about a teenaged serving girl named Finley Jane, living in pseudo-Victorian steampunk’d London. After her employer attempts sexual assault and Finley whoops him pretty easily, she discovers that there’s a kind of dark “other half” of her personality lying dormant within - and that it wants to kick butt. Griffin King, another teen with exceptional powers, takes her in and brings her to live at his manor with a select group of “special” individuals who fight against an army of evil robots led by a baddie known as the Machinist.
The book is, as the cover would suggest, a steampunk novel heavy on the romance. That said, I didn’t find the romance to be all that interesting - and there wasn’t a lot by way of action in the novel either. Okay, so that sounds quite negative - but let me put it this way: the book was mostly valleys with very few peaks. There was a lot of “down time” - a lot of what passed as character development - a lot of infodumping and world-building going on, with a little bit of action mixed in. As the plot progressed, the action took a larger role. This allowed me to get into the book at last, but the point at which things got interesting was far too late for my taste. And the “character development” time was wasted, in my opinion, because none of the characters were all that amazing.
Protagonist Finley has a last name for a first name and vice versa (for no reason! Shouldn’t her name be “Jane Finley?” Wouldn’t that make more sense?) but aside from that there’s really nothing to recommend her. She’s boring. That said, it takes a lot for me to like the main girl of any story so I might just be being harsh. I found that the “split personality” thing wasn’t handled particularly well, and that she kind of allowed herself to be carried along by the events without really questioning what was happening. Her “kick butt” moments were explained as being the work of some alternate personality - so the real Finley never got to kick butt! She really didn’t jazz me.
The same can be said for Griffin. Snooze-fest. He’s “gorgeous,” he’s rich, and best (?) of all, he’s a Duke. Yeah. This story suffers severe Missing Adult Syndrome. That’s cool in a book like Gone, where the adults are SUPPOSED to be missing, but WHY in the world does nobody in London care that some seventeen year old kid is running a home for freaks out of his huge mansion? Why does nobody seem to have parents? Finley’s other love interest Jack is pretty much the same exact thing (hot, slightly “unknown”) only a criminal. His role in the plot was negligible and while I preferred him to Griffin, he really didn’t have a role in the novel other than to fill the obligatory third corner of the love triangle. Grrr.
That said, the side characters… were really really cool. Emily was the kind of talented, driven, but still realistic teen girl with confused emotions and cool mechanical skillz that the lead girl in a steampunk YA novel should be! I found myself wanting the novel to focus more on her, because I found it easier to relate to and care about her than Finley. That’s bad, but it was good to have someone endearing around. I loved her relationship with Sam (Griffin’s best friend - also part robot - how cool is that?). It was really sweet and moved at the nice slow pace that I like. There was angst, but it was of the good kind. And their storyline had a resolution, which I can’t say for the stupid love triangle going on between Jack, Griffin and Finley. It always sucks when the sides are more interesting than the protagonists, and this book was definitely guilty of that. However, the book focused on the side characters at certain points, too, and when they were around I thought the group dynamic was really great.
The writing - I can’t really complain about. At times, I felt that there was some distance between me and the characters, but that’s probably because I didn’t really care about the leads, Griffin and Finley. Nothing spellbinding - no great prose-work or cracking dialogue - but it served. It was a bit economical. It really didn’t do as much with the steampunk elements as I thought it should have, and the Victorian London setting was so far downplayed that it made me mad. We’re in London, lady! It’s the 1800s!! Describe something, PLEASE. But no. No. Cross must have a hate on for adjectives. It wasn’t as bad as I’m probably making it sound, though.
Altogether, I really with Steel Corset had been the gateway drug into steampunk that the YA genre needs. I think that, handled with a sense of humour, some really great characters, and a sense for period detail, steampunk could be really great. This book is not that book, though. It’s a fun read, really quite light considering the hefty page count, and engaging enough, but I’m not head-over-heels for this story.
Premise & Originality: 1 Star
Plot: 0.5 Stars
Characters: 0.5 Stars
Writing: 0.5 Stars
Enjoyability: 0.5 Stars
Total: 3 / 5 Stars