Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross (Steampunk Chronicles #01)

Book info:
Form: pdf file
Genre: steampunk-flavoured romance/adventure
Target audience: YA

Synopsis:

1897, Victorian England.16-year-old Finley Jayne is convinced she’s a freak. No normal girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man or throwing him across the room. Is that monster inside her an ally or her biggest enemy? How has she ended up like that?  Who knows. One thing is true – it is the only option left to Finley. Only Griffin King, a young peer of the realm, sees the magical darkness inside her as something good, something that means she’s special . . . that she’s one of “them”, a gang of freaks of nature or maybe people who’s just got to another evolution stage. Still difference is not always a good, acceptable thing especially when somebody equally gifted tries to use it to take over the whole country and maybe even the whole world.

What I liked:

It started like a YA novel full of great ideas, taken from different books. As Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by R.L. Stevenson are two of them (I read and liked them both) I decided to give it a try. Finley also seemed like a heroine with some spine – unfortunately she had to crash into Griffin King too soon and then her potential was somehow diminishing with every page. I was on board with the whole Jekyll/Hyde dichotomy and the battle for good and evil going on inside of her but it ended in no time.

Also the cover is very nice.

What I didn’t like:

My first carping is that, in my humble opinion, the author couldn’t decide how steampunky this novel should be. Ok, there are automatons, bionic people and other fantastic aether devices but they never get into the spotlight, not truly – that’s why I wouldn’t call this book ‘steampunk’, it just comes with a steampunk flavour. In real steampunk novels the love is always in the details– it’s not just about shoving in some wheels, engines and corsets, you have to create the entire world in all its depth and intricacies. Here random devices make appearances for no apparent reason as if the author was afraid she can bore her female readers with too many technical elements. Well, if you write about  kick-ass heroines and their female side-kicks who are also technical whizzes you surely must be aware such types exist in real life as well. So who is your real audience?

What’s more the scientific aspect hasn’t been researched well or rather it was mixed with the ordinary religious beliefs: correct me if I am mistaken but either there is a ‘spirit world’ with the souls of the departed (so human beings have a soul and there is God, Heaven, Hell etc) or there are just those particles of life, the Organites, found in the core of the Earth by Griffin’s father, which make it possible to cure all illnesses, enhance your natural talents and even resurrect freshly deceased if only applied in copious amounts by somebody skilled (so no soul is needed, right? No soul = no creator, just evolution). Either or. Meanwhile Ms Cross tries to sell us on both. Which is not exactly the best idea from my point of view.

My second remark: the plot and the narration style. The book was very predicable and a bit boring. The first crime the author committed is too much telling instead of showing. The next – a bland bunch of characters. A baddie starts as a big, strong, bogeyman and ends up a broken creature, almost hopelessly weak without any mechanical help. Finley’s little problem also is resolved with childish ease (I did expect it go far worse and somehow it didn’t); her dual nature seemed nothing else but a device which had to justify the fact she had two boyfriends. By the way if you have to have a duke in the book please, do your research, and call him something nice and probable, not Griffin King. ‘King’ sounds spurious even to teenage American readers and believe it or not, some of them know European history and peerage pretty well. I know, it might come as a surprise but still…

And here we hit my third major complaint: two love triangles would be bad enough in any YA book but here, additionally one element of the main triangle (Griffin-Finley-Jack), Jack Dandy was simply misconstrued. He was supposed to be that epitome of bad boy: dark, lean, handsome, ruthless, criminally-inclined, street-wise, mysterious, irresistible. Instead he was a sissy who danced around Finley like a well-trained circus poodle and never even dared to kiss her. We also weren’t told anything about his nefarious exploits which seemed a bit strange to me as well – such a big criminal mastermind and not even one juicy burglary? No fisticuffs? He seemed to exist just to mangle Queen’s English, buy Finley that gorgeous fancy dress and provide useful info to Griffin. Booooring.

Finally, imagine it or not, one of the major criminal mysteries (the identity of the killer of Felix, the rakish son of the employer of Finley, beaten to a pulp by her at the beginning because of a rape attempt) is left unresolved and even forgotten. No character mentions it, nobody wonders what happened to that obnoxious type and it seemed so important to all of them at first…

Final verdict:

I know it’s the first in a planned trilogy but on its own, “The Girl in the Steel Corset” felt like a novel half-done. I admit the ideas were great but it is also another example of a book which significant potential was sadly squandered. It was not the YA Steampunk entertainment I was hoping for and it made me definitely unwilling to continue the series.

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