Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Genre: steampunk, young-adult, historical fiction
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #2
Pages: 416 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected May 22, 2012
Source: from publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling - or dangerous.

Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her "straynge band of mysfits" have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves.

One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens. And tightens.

I did it: I finished this loooooong, dry book full of flat characters, endless repetition and tons of of the hated "showing not telling" way of expanding the history. Though my experience with round two of this "straynge band of mysfits" was sliiiightly better than with its predecessor The Girl in the Steel Corset, I want to express this loudly and clearly: This series is not a good example of steampunk. Also: whyyy the random, painful bastardization of "strange band of misfits"? (SPOILER for first in the series) If you've read book one, you know that "Jayne" is not in fact Finley's surname, nor does she go by it at all during this novel...  </SPOILER> So enough with the strange application of "y"'s. A lot of my issues from the first are present oce again here: Finley herself continued to be a bit of a disappointment and an erratic and brainless main character, continuing my lack of enthusiasm for her, most of the background characters remain flat and one-dimensional, and the villain/twist is telegraphed very early on in the book. This review might get a little long and spoilery, or even a lot, so keep your eyes elsewhere unless that's what you want. 

Things I Am Vastly Tired Of Reading About In The Steampunk Chronicles:

  • Emily's "ropey" hair (what does that even mean? Dreadlocks? Braids?)
  • any kind of overwrought love triangle (Jasper-Mei-Emily or Jasper-Mei-Wildcat - either/or - no thank, you)
  • Sam surliness/moodiness (less of an obvious page-to-page problem than in book one, but still not redeemable)
  • How Finley's drawn to the darker side of life (it's been two books, countless examples [Felix, Jack, fights, Dalton] and something like 800+ pages - we get it already!)
  • Finley's worries about being worthy for a Duke (I'm pretty sure the boy that can be one with the Aether doesn't care about society, given that he already lives unsupervised with two young women)
  • Griffin's "I-trust-you-now-I-don't" wishywashy bullshit with Finley + worrying over whether he is exciting enough for the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-ian girl he loves likes (Have some self-respect, dude.)
  • Anything involving the word Organites (including Darwin and this books misuse of his theories on evolution)

I think some of the problem with this series is that it wants to be X-Men but with a steampunk background. On the surface it seems to sort-of/maybe fit the mold cast by Charles Xavier and his motley crew: there are a bunch of mutated kids with special abilities like super strength and speed and healing, the ability to talk to machines, dual natures, etc. that all live together in a big mansion, owned by a family with a lot of money. But such a comparison starts to fall apart upon closer inspection - most aspects of this historical steampunk young-adult novel are rather run-of-the-mill and cliched, easy to find in slightly different forms all over the paranormal teen novel market.

Though this takes place merely a fortnight after the events of the first book, a lot of the superficial details have changed, including the cast of characters. At first I was, well, not really excited, but less apprehensive to start this based on the cover. For one - it's not a generic, whitewashed cover. Mei is an important part of the plot - in fact the whole book falls apart without her participation - and I'm really happy that an Asian young woman was selected to show and advertise for ya novel. But there's always a but, and here is no exception. Mei is a new character and her race makes her stand out in this largely English cast, but I'm bothered and disappointed that the author chose to name her "Mei Xing." As in the word "Amazing" - how awkward and shallow of a choice! But that was just the first of many character issues I found here. I also wish there had been more subtlety with her role in the plot (subtlety from the woman who named her main male character/love interest Griffin King? My bad) - while I wasn't sure at first, it's rapidly apparent what's going on. A lot little more authorial sleight of hand would make the unraveling of the plot and characters much more engrossing to read.

Main character Finley has been a problem from me since early on in the first chapter of The Girl in the Steel Corset and sadly, she is no better here in round two. Her previous problem of acting brainlessly and without thought for repercussion shows up early and often but good ol' Fin now drags her friend Emily into her messes. I know that the big 'deal' with Finley is constantly-battling dual nature, but the author's depiction of her lead's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type tendencies is really over the top here. She's supposed to dance on the fence of morality and legality, but considering backhanding another girl for a look? That's extreme and just makes Finley look like a judgmental and unhinged maniac - not a fiercely protective and loving friend, which is I think what the author was trying to impart? I may have missed the finer point of it because Finley was devolving into an autocratic violence machine.

Once again I felt there was a superfluous amount of POVs used here - just like I thought for the first book; Finley's alone would be sufficient if grating on my nerves. So much of the text feels like repetition - even if it's Finley, or Jasper or Griff, they all think along the same lines. I mean, Jasper explains and re-explains his plans to hide a device multiple times. It gets old, quick. It must be said that Jasper's voice is the most identifiable, but that's largely because of his affected and annoying accent. (Also? Being from San Fransisco and wearing a ten-gallon hat does not make one a cowboy. OK?) The lack of Jack Dandy is lamentable, but at least the love triangle tension and drama was slightly scaled down as well. The charming but fake Cockney crime lord is one of my few liked characters, even if Griff is slowly climbing his way up in my estimations to give him a run.

In the end, I'd have to say that The Girl in the Clockwork Collar is ultimately just as energy-sapping and time-consuming as its immediate predecessor. It's also just as frustrating to slough through for over 400 pages. It feels amateurish, characters haven't grown or evolved, there's too much focus on fripperies instead of potential awesomeness, and infodumps and love triangles run rampant. There seems to be some love-connection type resolution for Finley and Griff (until she gets back to London and Jack...) as well as the main storyline. With a rushed ending that was over veeery quickly, I can't say I'm sad to say "goodbye!" to this series - for forever - even if there's a book three.

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