by Kady Cross
Series: Steampunk Chronicles #1
Published on May 24, 2011 by Harlequin TEEN
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Steampunk, Young Adult
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 version of The Girl in the Steel Corset that I purchased included the short prequel novella, the Strange Case of Finley Jayne. While I really enjoyed the prequel, I have mixed feelings about the first in the Steampunk Chronicles series. Overall, I enjoyed it, but as a character-oriented reader, I didn’t feel the strong urge to root for these characters compared to those in other books. The story concept was very interesting, although I think the execution of some of the plot points could’ve been done better. The Girl in the Steel Corset was a good read and I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the series, but it wasn’t the best book I’ve read.
Miss Finley Jayne knows the importance of not challenging the upper social classes, especially when it comes to the son of her current employer. Yet her “darker” side takes over and eventually ends up in the home of the young Duke of Greythorne, Griffin. The duke and his house of “strays” work to protect their home and country and don’t know whether they can trust the troublesome Finley or not. Out of all the characters, Finley was one of the ones I liked the most. She represented the two sides of a person (good and bad) with her dual nature, a take on Jekyll and Hyde (which is referenced later in the book). She also wasn’t the stereotypical heroine who had to wear men’s clothes in an era where it wasn’t very popular because she couldn’t stand skirts. While I like those types of characters, Finley was a breath of fresh air. Her two sides also provided tension and a look at both a quiet and caring girl, and a sarcastic, cocky one that contrasted nicely. Finley is likeable and I enjoyed reading the parts of the novel from her perspective (as it’s told from several characters).
As for the other characters, I liked Emily, didn’t really care about Jasper, and hated Sam (okay, maybe “hated” is a little strong). Emily is sweet and tough, with an ever-growing thirst for knowledge and a brain capable of saving her friends’ lives several times over. She’s not your typical Victorian girl. I didn’t really get to know Jasper in this book (although from reading about the sequel, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, he plays a bigger role, which I’ll be finding out on my own soon enough). He was the American cowboy tagging along with the rest of the group, for me. Sam annoyed me…a lot. I understood that he was upset and felt betrayed for what Emily, and Griffin, did to save his life after a terrible accident, but he was an ungrateful bastard the whole time. I wanted to slap some sense into him. His friends did what they had to because they cared so much about him and instead he let his anger and naivety almost destroy himself and his friends.
Then there are the boys of the lovely little love triangle (one of two in the book, although neither amounts to much in the romance department). First we have Griffin, a young duke with some unusual abilities who finds Finley intriguing to say the least. Then there’s the thief lord and bad boy Jack Dandy, who Finley seeks out at first to send a message to her former employer’s son. She is instantly drawn to him, at least her darker side is. The two seemed to represent her two sides, Griffin for the light and Jack for the dark, but she’s attempting to merge the two personalities together so in the end, a choice will have to be made. I liked Jack. He stays true to who he is: a villain, but not without redeemable qualities. He’s there for Finley when she needs him and while I don’t know his intentions, part of me wonders if it’s just to stay in her good graces. She’s drawn to him and the danger that surrounds him, but part of her is crushing on Griffin, who’s struggling with his own feelings for her. I didn’t mind Griffin but I was definitely Team Jack in this book. Griffin may be strong in his own world but his quest to save everyone all the time became annoying and while Jack continued to make his intentions clear to Finley (whether she realized it or not), Griffin didn’t do a thing. A shame, really.
Characters aside, I thought Cross’s concept, as a whole, was interesting and original. While steampunk has its trademarks (i.e. clockwork, steam-run vehicles, advanced technology, Victorian era, etc.), Cross added a new twist with the Organites, creatures from the center of the earth, believed to be part of the creation of life. They drive the unusual talents of those in Griffin’s house. There is also the Aether, a “spirit world” of sorts that Griffin is able to connect with. Neither of these have come up in any of the steampunk books I’ve read. But while the ideas were interesting, I didn’t favor some of the ways Cross executed them in the novel. For example, I found the villain all too easy to pinpoint (to the point that I became bored waiting for the characters to figure it out). I figured it out as soon as she introduced him (although I won’t reveal who that is). This also applied to what the villain was trying to do. All the clues lined up perfectly and I just wanted to scream at the characters for being stupid. It was quite frustrating, really. Other than spoon-feeding the dastardly evil plan the group was trying to foil, I had no issues with the rest of the plot (although I could’ve used more scenes with a certain Mr. Jack Dandy).
Despite everything critical I may have said, I read The Girl in the Steel Corset fairly quickly and enjoyed it. It’s perfect for fans of steampunk looking for a twist on the developing genre. If you’re a character person like me, you may have trouble with a few (or all) of them, though that comes down to a matter of personal taste. This novel is good for all ages and doesn’t contain any material unsuited for younger ages. There’s enough action to keep you entertained, although if you’re a die-heard mystery or romance fan, you may be somewhat disappointed. As a whole, The Girl in the Steel Corset, was a good read (and what a fantastic cover!).