6 November 2011

Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

The Girl In The Steel Corset, by  Kady Cross
Series: The Steampunk Chronicles, book 1
Genre: YA, Sci-fi, Steampunk, Romance
Published: May 2011
Pages: 473 
My Rating: 

This review contains many spoilers, so beware!

What a page-turner!

England, 1897
Kady Cross herself meant her book as a cross-over between ‘X-men Teens’ and ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’. She’s right; it’s a book set in that wonderful, ‘steampunkian’, Victorian era, telling about young adults with special powers. Though I haven’t actually read any of the gothic classics, this book seems like sort of an ode to them as well. We all know the movies about Frankenstein, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, etc. Those themes are explored further here, used as an inspiration. Even the descriptive, elaborate writing style adds to the feel of the book.

As opposed to the prequel ‘The Strange Case of Finley Jayne’, this book develops at a slower pace. Although that may be not the right terminology to use here, because the book almost immediately starts in the middle of a violent scene. Whereas ‘prequel-Finley’ seemed to be mostly good with a righteous heart, only partly taken over by her ‘Dark Side’ or ‘Other Self’, this Finley seems eager for blood. Admittedly, when faced with the situation she finds herself faced with, it’s understandable she wants to defend herself, or even hurt her opponent.

When Finley literally runs into Griffins velocycle -a sort of motor-bicycle powered by a special kind of energy (‘Ore’: something Griffs parents found while taking their journey to the centre of the earth. This energy powers almost entire London and is in the hands of Griffin), she finds herself awakening at Griff’s mansion. Griffin turns out to be the Duke of Greythorne. Because she feels imprisoned, ‘Dark’ Finley attacks anyone in her proximity. (Already, it gets kinda old...) Luckily Griff and his friends, Sam and Emily, aren’t normal either. Griff, for example, has a special connection to the Aether and recognizes Finley’s ‘abnormality’ instantly, without judging. He manages to settle her down with his power.

Details about the characters and environment create the right atmosphere. Griff has a nifty velocycle, retro-futuristic cell phones also exist, in the form of personal telegraph machines. Griffs ‘Aether’ machine could be compared to the internet, only broader. It allows him to make contact with those who have passed away, as well as find any information about people/things that is ‘out there’. Of course it doesn’t look anything like our computers, everything is made of metal, brass, wood etc. So-called ‘Automatons’ have taken over many jobs, though lately several of them have gone against their programs, attacking people, amongst them Sam.

Slowly the story evolves, but not so slow you’re losing interest. It’s nice for a change to read a story that goes a little deeper, tackles issues and mysteries before it gets snowed under by heaps of action. Kady Cross takes her time to give the reader more background info on the characters. She does this also by changing the points of view from which the story is told. We see things from not only Finleys view, but also Griff, Sam and Emily.

We learn where Griff got his wealth (actually, his parents did, and since they died in an accident a few years back, that makes him the duke and heir to the estate)and get to know Emily’s brilliance when it comes to fixing both people (sometimes with the help of ‘Organites’) and machines. Sam has been so brutally attacked by an automaton gone wild, he couldn’t have survived without the metal alterations Emily made to his body. He’s struggling to find a way to get over his fear for automatons and accept his new self. He’s coping even more with his feelings for both Emily and Griff, he knows they acted out of love yet at the same time he hates them for practically turning him into the same thing that almost caused him to die in the first place.

Emily’s research on the same automaton that attacked Sam showed nothing out of the ordinary. Its power source is still the same: ‘Ore’. Gradually this strange group of youngsters learn more about the way ‘Organites’ work. They enhance the powers they already possess, which is why Finley can’t control her dark side ever since she’s been treated with the ‘Organites’. Thankfully Griff gradually helps Finley merge her ‘two broken halves’ into one whole.

When Griffs Aunt Cordelia returns home (wearing a nose piercing and ear piercing which are connected by 6 iron chains, 1 for each year her husband has gone missing) we learn that Griffs and Finleys existences are coincidentally connected, their parents journeyed to the centre of the earth together in a group. After a talk with Finleys mom, Finley finally finds out why she is who/what she is.
***SPOILER: Her father was a brilliant scientist who used himself as a test subject often. With the help of Griffs father, he barely manages to return to his usual self after a sort of Jekyll and Hyde experiment gone wrong. For both men the test results were a cause for celebration; for Finley who was conceived after these experiments, they meant something similar happens inside of her. END SPOILER***
At night this ‘bad side’ of Finley mostly comes to live. It’s then she seeks out Jack Dandy, presuming her former employer (the one who came on to her but she fought off) is one of his followers. She feels Jack Dandy to be an equal to her ‘dark’ self, immediately drawn to his physique and dangerous vibe. Still, she can’t help compare him to Griff who’s been kind enough to provide her with shelter and new clothing, and wants nothing but her trust in return. At first. Also, he asked her to fight along their sides against the evil that makes London an unsafe place.

I loved the reversed roles in the scene where Griffs aunt Cordelia tries to enter Finleys mind to find out whether or not she is guilty of something. (Because whenever Finleys dark side takes over lately, she can’t seem to remember anything she did.)
***SPOILER: Finleys dark side fights Cordelia off, Cordelia’s nose starts bleeding from the strain, while Griff tries to disconnect their minds through the Aether. He succeeds but has to let his guard down, all ghosts lingering in the Aether overtaking him, almost causing his brain to explode because of the overwhelming pressure. To find refuge he manages to throw himself into the pool, the pressure escaping him in the form of steam. Finley comes to his rescue, disregarding her pounding headache, the burns the steam cause and scoops Griff up into her arms, carrying him back into the house. For a few steps that is, until Griffins male pride takes over and gently asks her to put him down. When Aunt Cordelia learns Finley is innocent and sees the way she cares for Griff, she is finally able to trust her. END SPOILER***

The scene in which Finley receives an exotic gift from an admirer, along with an invitation to a masked ball in Piccadilly Circus, is one of my favourites. I love the way Jack woos Finley.

Another lovely scene is the one where Griff comes to get Finley back, after she’s fled the mansion to stay at Jack’s.
***SPOILER: Sam challenges Finley to a fight, hoping to provoke her evil side to make his friends see she’s dangerous after all. When Sam nearly kills her, Finley almost kills him by molesting his artificial heart. Emily, Finley and Griff manage to rescue him but Finley decides to run. As soon as Griff finds out Finley is missing he reckons she must be at Jack Dandy’s and goes over there. He threatens to throw her over his shoulder if he must. Jack retorts in his charming cockney accent ‘that even he ‘as goose bumps.’ Griff *does* walk out of there with Finley over his shoulder. END SPOILER***

I liked every character, though it took me a while to like Sam. I got his hatred, but still didn’t take a liking to him.
I found Finleys two sides fascinating, even more so once they were ‘fighting’ for their place at the same time. Her shyness opposed to her boldness, her fear opposed to her anger, etc.
Griffin was likeable and cool in a careless way, but a bit distant. Still witty in his own way.
Jack Dandy was great, claiming to be a bad guy when it was clear his heart was in the right place, especially when it came to Finley.
Emily’s obvious heritage in the form of her accent, red hair and freckles softened her brilliance which was intimidatingly so. Her power to ‘speak’ to machines was one really tailormade.
Renn was likeable too, the only thing that left me in the dark is the way he disappeared from the book...

The plot wasn’t huge or epic, but the story had enough action the entire time. Actually the plot was very meager, compared to the length of the story. I expected something bigger. However, I was curious to find out what ‘The Machinist’ was planning and why he needed a tunnel that ended right in one of Queen Victoria’s rooms.
***SPOILER: ’Twas a very humorous moment in the book, when the team appeared through a hole in the floor of Queen Victoria’s room (after a claustrophobic tunnel trip in the place where Sam got attacked by the automaton), her majesty staring right at them. Just as it was funny Queen Victoria’s wax statue was stolen from Madame Tussaud’s and delivered at Jack Dandy’s doorstep, dressed in nothing but her undergarments! END SPOILER***

I can’t say I disliked ANYTHING in the book. Not a single chapter, paragraph or word even. I kept turning pages, wanting to know. I felt giddy and at awe the whole time, this is my new favorite book and author. Maybe for the sequel she could do with a better, more epic plot. Because of that and the fact that the story was maybe a little too elaborate compared to it, I give it 4,5 stars instead of 5.

My last point of critique is the absence of that one kiss I know all readers must have been waiting for. There was plenty of romance in the book, moments I wished I could experience myself, but I missed that kiss. Desperately. Because sense, sensibility and social classes can’t and mustn’t rule over true love. Right?

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