(book jacket photo courtesy of Goodreads)
In 1897 England, sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne has no one...except the "thing" inside her. When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no "normal" Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch...
Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she's special, says she's one of "them." The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.
Griffin's investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help--and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.
But The Machinist wants to tear Griffin's little company of strays apart, and it isn't long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she's on--even if no one believes her (summary courtesy of Goodreads).
I am just venturing into the world of Steampunk. I read the Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare and LOVED it, but I never actually got the fact that it was considered Steampunk until just recently. I was too wrapped up in the Shadowhunter world. But I digress. Anyway, I honestly consider this my first "official" Steampunk novel. And unfortunately, I was disappointed.
I really wanted to love this novel. Just looking at the gorgeous cover makes you want it to be good, makes you want to devour every word. But, The Girl in the Steel Corset fell short for me.
Let's start by saying, I know I am reading a Steampunk novel. That's one of the reasons I'm reading it. Please don't remind me every few pages that not only is this Victorian England, but there are things here that are just not possible, like the automatons. I got the impression Ms. Cross felt the need to constantly remind her readers that this is a novel set in the past and filled with improbable gadgets. It got very tiring, very fast. Every time a new gadget was introduced, I was reminded that this was not probable during that time period. I know! Let me read the book and have the story be so amazing that I am drawn into the world you created. Don't tell me, show me.
Also, a little research goes a long way. If you are going to set a novel in Victorian London, make sure you know what you are writing about. I got the impression that Ms. Cross didn't know that much about the time period she chose for her novel. One of the reasons I have been excited to read Steampunk is because of the time period it is set in. I really felt like the story was a modern story plunked down in the late 19th century, with little to no effort expended to help the reader feel as if they were in 1897. And in this supposed "proper" world where there is constant worry about anything inappropriate happening, a lot of "inappropriate" things happen. As a way to remind us that this is the 1890s in Victorian London, the author tosses in frequent references to improprieties and the inappropriateness of the characters' actions. Though she seems to ignore those improprieties just pages later. Not only that, but I felt like she didn't know that much about the country she chose as her setting. Most of what she wrote about London could have been read on Wikipedia. And the couple of references made about Queen Victoria could have been pulled from the episode of Doctor Who about her. "I am not amused" is perhaps the most over-used line for a non-fictional character ever. And it's used in this book. Very disappointing, considering the Queen is an oft-wrote about part of this book.
Perhaps the biggest issue I had with this book was the lack of character development and character consistency. Now, I know this is a YA book, and they are notorious for character development issues, but I felt like the characters and relationships could have been better written. The various characters' back stories could have been an entire book themselves. I felt as if I walked into a story already in progress and I had missed a lot of what I needed to know. The most emphasis seemed to be placed on getting Sam's back story out. While it was important to the plot, so were other stories, in particular Griffin's. I felt as if he was glossed over and I was just supposed to like him because he was the male lead of the story. I liked Emily, but unfortunately we never learned much about her. Jack Dandy was another interesting character with little to no story, as was Griffin's Aunt Cordelia. Another character with a lot of potential was the American, Jasper. Unfortunately, he came off very stereotypical, with his "Howdies" and his cowboy boots and hat. Incidentally, my least favorite character was Sam, one of the characters the most time was spent on. I found him whiny and annoying. And don't get me started on the two, yes TWO, love triangles evident in The Girl in the Steel Corset. Both of which were very under-developed or downright unlikely. How exactly does one fall in love with a girl they have met once and talked to for 10 minutes? I guess when you need a love triangle (though I'm not sure exactly why there had to be one), the improbable will happen. As the reader, I was never shown that the characters were falling for each other, I was told they were. I was supposed to accept it based on being told it was happening, rather than watching it come to fruition on its own.
Finally, this novel tries to throw too much in the pot at one time. It's Steampunk, it's paranormal, it's romance, it's science fiction. There are too many things overlapping and struggling to be included. Ms. Cross borrowed heavily from other books, in particular the Infernal Devices series (the use of runes on the body, the flesh on automatons) as well as comic books (superhero powers and super-healing).
There was one thing that did stand out for me and that was Ms. Cross's knowledge of mechanics and various machinery. Perhaps the most well-written parts of the book were those written about the automatons, the velocycles, and the various other gadgets she created for this story. If only that effort had also gone into building the characters as well, this would have been a much better book.
My grade for The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross: