Friday, August 12, 2011


The Girl in the Steel Corset (Steampunk Chronicles, #1) - Kady Cross
Genre: YA Steampunk/Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
# of pages:
473 (hb)
Recommended for: Everyone
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 an 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 Griff'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 it seems no one believes her.

Diesel is for unbelievers -
Electricity is wrong.
Steam has got the power that will pull us along!
There's a light at the end of the tunnel
...and it's YA steampunk!

I was incredibly surprised at how much I enjoyed this oddly entertaining novel. I don't remember what I was expecting, but I know that I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did.
Girl in the Steel Corset is one of the first (hopefully not the last) steampunk novels I've ever read. My prediction is that steampunks will rise up sometime before 2013 and will replace dystopians as YA's hottest trend. And that prediction is thanks in part to books like this one.
This novel hit the ground running from page one, with little dull moments in the 400+ tome. The main character, Finley Jayne, is basically a real life case of 'Jekyll-Hyde' dualism. In fact, most of the main characters at least one sort of strange ability that makes this novel read like a Victorian version of X-Men, plus this life-force substance called Organites seems, I've been told, very similar to a concept borrowed from Star Trek... However, I thought the author pulled the overall story off nicely.
Because Finley's aggressive, Hyde-like nature renders her an ultimate fighting machine, there was a lot of action throughout the story. Honestly, I could have done with a little less 'Miss Macho.' There's no drama or intensity involved if you've got a character who can lick everybody. And I just ended up skimming some of the fight scenes. But what I really appreciated about this novel, and what I consider Cross' strength, is the sheer detail involved in the worldbuilding of this alternate Victorian London. Her steampunk machines, gadgets, and trinkets were exquisitely detailed, vivid, and imaginative, and I really liked that. Besides some personality/cultural anachronisms (characters acted a little too loosened up for late-19th century England, although the fact that this is a steampunk novel may mean it was done purposefully), Girl in the Steel Corset was a well-imagined, inventive-but-not-convoluted story, one that kept me thoroughly entertained.
What also surprised me about this novel was how much I ended up enjoying the characters (reason for my surprise has to do with my less-than-impressed encounters with other Harlequin Teen book characters). I liked how Cross was able to make Griffin's character likable, but not bland. The other secondary characters - Sam, Emily, and Griffin's aunt (forgot her name) - were well crafted. They weren't cardboard characters, in my opinion, but they didn't hog the spotlight from Finley, either. And they all had interesting but not over-the-top abilities as well, just as if there existed a Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters in Victorian England (only here, the "school" is the safe haven of a duke's estate).
There were some characters who seemed a bit unnecessary, though. The smarmy Jack Dandy seemed to serve no purpose at all, except to be yet another love interest for the main character (and I am notoriously grumpy about love triangles). And really, I didn't know what to make of him. He's too smarmy to be a good guy, but he's not menacing enough to be a villain, either. I guess he's supposed to be one of those 'rogues with a heart of gold.' To me, he was just in the way. Griffin's American friend Jasper Renn didn't seem to have much of a purpose either.
Within the 400+ pages of Girl in the Steel Corset, there seemed to be some overcrowding with the characters, like they exceeded the book's maximum character occupancy. It got hard to keep track of everyone. However, maybe everyone's roles will become more finalized in the sequel.
I absolutely loved the 'villain' character, though. If Sherlock Holmes' nefarious Moriarty ever took an interest in taking over the world via automatons, it would look something like this. :)

And my favorite part of Girl in the Steel Corset was how little romance there was involved. For a book published by Harlequin Teen, that was pleasantly surprising to me. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that romance (and that odious love triangle) will become more pronounced in the next installment. I don't know, though, maybe not.
What I do know is that I was really impressed with Kady Cross' ability to create likable characters (even if there were a few too many), matched with a genuinely interesting plot (creepy automatons and machines thinking for themselves?!) and cleverly created gadgets, clothes, and...well, all things steampunk. So if you haven't given The Girl in the Steel Corset a try...
soon the pistons will be hummin,

Steam will have a second comin'
(Why yes, "Light at the End of the Tunnel" from
Starlight Express would fit just nicely as the theme song for steampunk!)
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