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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "The Girl in the Steel Corset" by Kady Cross.

“The Girl in the Steel Corset.”

Author: Kady Cross.

Publisher: Harlequin Teen.

Pages: 477.

Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): 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.

Cover impressions: There’s been much talk amongst the blogosphere of a possible upcoming Steampunk craze in YA, in the wake of Cassandra Clare’s best-selling but incredibly mediocre foray into the genre. Kady Cross, the pseudonym for author Kathryn Smith, mentions in the acknowledgements for her book that she wanted to write a cross between “X Men” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” As a fan of both (I have a serious guilty pleasure love of the latter movie adaptation, even though I’m perfectly aware of how bad it is) I approached this with cautious optimism but, after a great opening chapter, found myself quickly bored.

The potential for greatness is definitely there but these promising elements are put together so clumsily and in such a derivative fashion. The love is always in the details, and such things are genre expectations for Steampunk – it’s not just about shoving in some cogs and corsets and calling it a Steampunk novel, you have to create the entire world in all its depth and intricacies. Unfortunately, this novel tries to throw in so much detail that basic elements of storytelling such as plotting and pacing suffer. There’s just so much stuff to be described and Cross does so frequently and it weighs down the pacing until its dead in the water. There’s so much technology on show, so many paragraphs on the intricacies of a piece of equipment that it quickly becomes exhausting, especially when the story seems to have disappeared. It’s such a shame because the story starts with an intriguing bang that promises much but doesn’t quite deliver. The world never really feels like a well constructed alternative Steampunk universe. Instead, it’s more like a Victorian set romantic mystery with some stuff thrown in. I did find a lot of the technology interesting but its place in the story felt forced and shoe-horned in, never organic to the proceedings. Like the story itself, much of this technology is told to us and not shown.

It’s also a disappointment to see how many of the YA paranormal tropes this book falls into. The love triangle, for unfortunately there is another one in a YA novel, is the typical series of events we’ve come to expect in this genre, with little development of the actual characters Finley is supposed to be so taken by. Finley herself was another example of squandered potential. Her genuinely interesting issues were plodded out in such a pedestrian manner that, like everything else in the story, I quickly became bored by her. The mystery that has much more interesting potential than the love triangle is sacrificed for the romance, although what little mystery we were given was a little too predictable. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that this story wasn’t complete. I know it’s the first in a planned trilogy but on its own, “The Girl in the Steel Corset” felt half-done. I later found out that Cross had released an online prequel to the book which leaves me with mixed feelings I may have to address in a later blog post.

“The Girl in the Steel Corset” is another example of great potential sadly squandered, and not the Steampunk YA saviour one was hoping for. There are moments of excitement and interest amidst the plodding story and tedious pacing but it never really amounts to something worthwhile. The basic idea of the story is definitely one with possibilities, so I hope Cross can expand upon them and iron out the story’s weaknesses in the rest of the trilogy.


"The Girl in the Steel Corset" will be available in USA on May 24th. I received my e-ARC from

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Anonymous said...

It's too bad that so much steampunk seems to try to run on the idea itself rather than substantial creativity . . . I really like it as a genre but rarely find it to be well executed.

As someone who has some steampunk elements in my WIP (it's not strictly steampunk and is not alternate universe or Victorian), I do think that a lot of thought has to go into the setting - I've been working on stuff for six years and am still not happy with it (and may never be).

Anonymous said...

I was actually looking at this over at Goodreads and didn't know if I wanted to read it or not. Steampunk's one of those genres I've been really getting into, but there's few that I've read that have created a tangible world. (Stephen Hunt's Court of the Air was good, if a bit plot-tangled, and I fangirl Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy.)

And someone else who love League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for all of its badness and cheesiness! I thought I was the only one!

Deirdre said...

I wasn't really keen on wanting to buy this in the first place; your review confirms all the suspicions I've had about it ever since I first read about it online.

morri_delrae said...

I had some hopes for this book after reading the synopsis - confusing as it was, it seemed promising. If I get a hold of it, I'll probably give it a try anyway, if only for the detailed technical descriptions. It's a shame, though, that most steampunk novels seem to stop at the visual aspect of the setting, without really considering how having a quasi-Victorian world would affect everything else (give me great discoveries, labour rights and a struggle against social inequities anytime).

And unless I'm sorely mistaken, "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" has Sean Connery in it, and, in my opinion, anything with Sean Connery totally merits the "pleasure" label, with no need to add "guilty" to it :)

Hyacinth Marius said...

I have mixed feelings about The Girl in the Steel Corset...the cover is so beautiful but I'm not sure about getting into steampunk. I generally don't care for stories set in the 1800s. But I'm thinking I may have to try it anyway!
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