Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Genre: young-adult, steampunk, historical fiction
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles #1
Pages: 411 (Nook edition)
Published: June 2011
Source: won in giveaway
Rating: 2/5

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....

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 against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a 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 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.

This was quite nearly a DNF for me. Some books just read effortlessly and easily and some books are a struggle from the first page until the last and The Girl in the Steel Corset is definitely a member of the latter group. Only a few things could have kept me going in this four-hundred page mess and one of them was the immense, looming obligation I felt to read ARC I received for the sequel, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar. Several aspects of this first novel were mystifying to me amid and during my boredom and struggle to complete it - like why, exactly, is this lip-service "steampunk" novel so many readers' first (and judging by the "gadgetry" shown in this novel, their only taste) taste of that kooky and inventive subgenre? And why is Finley so brainless and hard to like? I have to readily admit my experience with Finley and her misfits were much less than satisfactory and note honestly that if I hadn't won this book, I would be pissed at having spent my hard-earned cash on it.

The Girl in the Steel Corset is just plain bad, and often a mess by many measures. There's love triangles galore (Jack-Finley-Griffin and Sam-Emily-Jasper), missed character potential in order to focus on fripperies, coffee (coffee? SERIOUSLY? Where's the tea?!) and clothing, and most damning (and frustrating as a reader) of all, there are unfulfilled and unexplained plotlines AFTER the resolution and roundup on the final page (<SPOILER>seriously, who killed Felix?</SPOILER>). I have major, major issues with how the steampunk aspect was "incorporated" into the story - I like steampunk quite a lot and have read several series just for the inventive gadgets and sky-high dirigibles. When it's done well, it can add a certain flair and fun to a much more straight-forward tale. When it's done like here in The Girl with the Steel Corset, it comes across more as deux-ex-machinas draped in clockwork - every invention in the novel comes across as just too convenient or perfect for the situation at hand. Cross's "steampunkery" leaves a lot to be desired and overall, doesn't add anything vital to the story at hand.

Character-wise, we also have some issues. 

Finley Jayne.
My issues with Finley began about two minutes into the book, give or take. As the novel opens, everything seems to be lined up in the young Miss Jayne's favor: she's smart, strong and can kick some arrogant lordling ass. However, as she's running away from the introductory attempted rape and her violent response to the situation, she LITERALLY runs into another strange young lordling but decides to follow that home. Her logic being that her mom's goung be pissed she lost her job with Asshole "Attempted Rapist" Lordling of Jackass Hall. Uhh.... ok, then, I guess? From that less than auspicious meeting point, I further got tired of Finley's brainlessness: she repeatedly makes harebrained, dangerous decisions without informing anyone else of her plans, she doesn't think consequences through and she's difficult.

Griffin King.
I'm just going to stop a moment and ponder the possibility of a Duke in 1800's England having the surname of 'King'. Really? I'm supposed to buy that? And what is with YA authors and painfully obvious names/surnames? Griffin is like a mix of a Batman origin story (parents murdered, forever seeks justice in an unjust world as a result) in an I, Robot world (machines trying to kill Sam against their programming). Much like his lady counterpart, Griff's characterization, and like everyone else's, is blunt and repetitive. This is not a book for any kind of subtlety or subterfuge - Kady Cross is an author that likes to beat her points around your head until you collapse. Griffin's honorable and a duke; he's smart and capable and kind. How do I know this? The other characters are kind enough to remark upon his attributes often, both vocally and internally, instead of, y'know, showing me their individual relationships with their actions and dialogue. But besides all that, I do think I have the beginnings of a book crush on the Duke of Greythorne - yes he is too perfect to be real, but he is the most only likeable male in the misfits.

Sam Morgan.
I hate Sam. Sam is the most unlikeable, undeveloped and hardest-to-understand character out of the whole bloody lot. In a cast of similarly clouded and unrounded characters, he takes the cake as the most frustrating. He's also quite thick - I called his twist as soon as it appeared disguised on the page. His actions towards Finley (like trying to MURDER her) do nothing to redeem his character - he is merely tedious in his capslockian rage.

Griffin's telekinetic and telepathic aunt quickly emerged somewhat of a major issue for me. <SPOILER>Also - how does she have such an ability without exposure to the Organites? No one else has such talents without them and she is never around them,</SPOILER> Cordelia tends to use brute mental force to invade someone's mind just because she can and she wants to, despite being asked and TOLD by Finley, repeatedly, to not mess around in her head. Cordelia also violates Griffin's expressed desires for cranular privacy, but self-control and heeding the wishes of others clearly matters very little to his guardian/aunt. Her part reduced more and more as the novel went on and the kids grew into their roles and independence and I wasn't sorry to see her go.

Characters I did like:

Emily O'Brien.
Emily is the Irish genius behind Griff's crime-fighting force. While I got very tired of seeing the word "ropey" attached to describe her hair, and her "lads" and "lass" at the end of every sentence wore my patience, Emily is the best part of the novel. She's smart, self-aware and every-bit as interesting as main character Finley Jayne.

Jack Dandy.
Dandy is the final leg in the love triangle of Griff and Finley and despite that working against him, I quite like the fake Cockney bastard - I'm always up to root for a good antihero. He, at least, has personality to burn and verve. While I found the overdone and obvious attraction between him and Finley to be well, overdone and obvious, he is certainly a scene-stealer and amusing. I liked that he was very different from Griff - one appeals the pure side of Finley and one to the darker - but I do wish he had had more point in the story than just causing romantic friction between the main characters.

There are admittedly some cool ideas at play here (Griff's abilities, the mutations of the group due to the exposure to the Organites) but unfortunately, much of what is good gets lost in the shuffle and the tedium offered in the rest of the book. Perhaps this would've been a stronger novel if there hadn't been so many POVs, but rather just Finley. Griffin's is an acceptable  narrative because it complements Finley's nicely, but Sam's adds absolutely nothing to the reading experience except an increased apathy for the part-robot. And if the characters aren't the selling point of the novel, the plot and action had better make up for it -except that is not the case here. In fact, after Finley's dustup and then meetup with Griff and until her showdown with Sam, there's very little real action to be had for a novel about a girl worried at one point about begin possessed by a violent demon.

The Girl in the Steel Corset is frustrating, time-consuming and an energy-sapping read. I hate being disappointed in books I've looked forward to reading which is perhaps 10% of the reason why I'm being quite so harsh here; there's just so much unrealized potential passed over (Em's brilliance) for less compelling ideas (Finley's dual nature). There is an open ending that leads quite obviously to the main events and plot of book two, but I was underwhelmed by both the final conflict and the denouement shown here. There is also no reason for this book to have the length it does - a dab hand at editing could excise about 50 - 100 pages of nonessential data and detail and have a more streamlined, consistent, and involving novel. All in all, if I didn't have a copy of book two waiting, I wouldn't continue this series.


  1. I've heard so many people say that they like this book, but for some reason every time I see it in a book store I pass it I'm glad I did.

    1. It really is a mess. That pretty cover has a deceptive reason to it, I'm afraid. There are so many better steampunk books to read - ignore this and pick up Gail Carriger :)

  2. We've briefly chatted about this on GoodReads, but yet again, must share my disappointment that this is such a bust!

    1. I'm still slightly bummed over it, a week after finishing. This is definitely not the author for me!

  3. I heard a lot of good stuff about The Girl In The Steel Corset, I can't believe I haven't read it yet! Happy reading!
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