11 February 2013

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

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.

The Girl in the Steel Corset really blew up the blogosphere when it first came out, and I can see why it would, but I can also see that this is another one of those cases where it's an extremely popular book that just doesn't work for me.  There was a great sense of atmosphere surrounding Steel Corset, what with all the inventions and the time period, but beyond a sense of setting, there wasn't a lot to recommend it to me.  I wasn't impressed by the main character, Finley; the plot was far too easy to figure out; and the writing didn't do anything for me.  If I was looking for a dramafest, I found it.  I didn't find anything engaging or thought-provoking about The Girl in the Steel Corset.

My main issue was with the characters.  While they each had their own deal (Emily with the machines, Sam with the automaton complex, Jasper with the cowboy boots and Griffin with being lordly and all that jazz), I wasn't very intrigued by their interactions.  It was wildly obvious from the beginning where the romances were going to develop and the love triangle?  I shy away from love triangles enough as it is but this one especially because there was no foundation for it.  Finley's perspective:
"She felt like a bone between two hungry dogs."
And she was about as voiceless as one, too.  I felt like Cross was trying to build up one as the powerful duke with a heart as big as his extensive wealth, and the other as a dark angel with hidden compassion.  It just made me cringe.

There wasn't enough depth to go around.  The only thing that had detail and intrigue was the machine stuff.  (They had motorcycles and flashlights and automaton cats, for heaven's sake.  What's not to find interesting?)  But with things like Finley's problem, the romances, and especially the plot, I was left uninterested.

My problem with Finley wasn't that she was a useless character (though she had a lot of very, very dim moments).  I liked the concept of the Jekyll and Hyde complex, but I was unconvinced by what was shown of Finley's duality.  I wanted -- and expected -- more complexity.  She didn't come off as very badass to me, just a cut out doll who talks and "supposedly" turns into a hardcore killer when she's threatened.  There wasn't a lot in her character to trigger my sympathy.

The plot was really disappointing for me.  While it was interesting at first, it was incredibly predictable the farther I got into the story.  And really, anyone who saw The Great Mouse Detective as a kid could have guessed what The Machinist was plotting.  Because of that the climax wasn't all that exciting.  I feel like it would've been more heart-pumping if the climax had actually challenged the characters on every level.  So it just seemed like a culmination of drama than a real struggle to win out over evil.  And while there was a cliffhanger at the very end, I saw it coming two hundred pages away.

That was the main issue I had with the writing: it completely lacked impact because I knew what was coming.  Some of it was clever and the dialogue was, for the most part, great, but there was very little mystery.  And the prose gave depth and detail in all the wrong places.  For example, every time a character changed into another outfit, it was noted and described in detail.  It was cool, but I just wish the attempt at depth had been uniform throughout the story and not just in that area.  There was a lot of telling and nowhere near enough showing, so whenever a character was getting "passionate" about something, they just came off as childish.  And also!  There were very slight narrative leaps.  The best (and most irritating) example is how Griffin might be narrating but Finley's emotions are described.  Small things like that pulled me out of the story.

The Girl in the Steel Corset was built up by the blogosphere to be this heart-pumping steampunk with a truly badass heroine, but I just couldn't see it.  I'm a bit on the fence about whether or not to continue with the series, but, to give Kady Cross some credit, she does know how to end on a cliffhanger.

"You have lovely eyes," she told Griff with a grin.  "All four of them."

She heard him laugh, as though from the other end of a long tunnel.  "Thank you.  Just lie back a bit.  There you go."

"You're not going to take advantage of me, are you?"  The cushions felt so nice behind her head.  It was so nice to lie down.  "Novels are always warning young women of the dangers of being taken advantage of by wealthy young men."

"You are perfectly safe.  Emily is here to protect your virtue."

"That's too bad."
Book Info

  • pages - hardcover, 473
  • published - May 2011
  • publisher - Harlequin Teen
  • genre - steampunk
  • received via - library
  • rating - 3/5
  • series - Steampunk Chronicles
    • The Girl in the Steel Corset
    • The Girl in the Clockwork Collar
    • The Girl with the Iron Touch