Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

This novel, the first in a young adult series called "The Steampunk Chronicles" is obviously an explicitly steampunk book.  In case you ever forget that, there is a lovely gear design decorating the start of each chapter.

One of the problems I had with this book is that it takes steampunk for granted as a genre.  The author doesn't spend much time on world-building or explanation.  What kind of world is it?  A steampunk world?  What more explanation do you need?

Well those who read a lot in the steampunk genre could tell you that one steampunk world can differ from another quite a lot.  This one offers little to no explanation for it's steamy elements.  Servants and apparently lots of women wear trousers and leather corsets.  Automatons are common.  Carriages and velo-cycles speed through the streets.  The reader is left to pick this up as she goes.  Personally I prefer some explanion of the cause of the alteration in my alternate history.

To make things more confusing there is also something called "The Aether" that is apparently the afterlife.  Maybe?  I'm not really clear on its nature, exactly. And it can be manipulated by some people with special powers.  Special powers are also, if not common, then not exactly rare.

The protagonist is Finley Jayne, a servant with super strength and an anger management problem.  She runs out of the house after an altercation with her employer only to be run over by Griffin, a Duke, who also has special powers.  In fact, his house is a haven for people with special powers, i.e. everyone he knows, apparently.  So this lower-class girl with spunk is taken in to this family of misfits who investigate strange things.

All fine and good.  There is something of an explanation of what caused these powers, but it doesn't explain why random other people also exhibit them (like Griffin's friend from America).  Honestly, every time I start thinking deeply about this book, I get very confused.

So you can see the flaws.  This very much feels like a first novel.  The writing and plotting can feel very clunky, and explanations are skipped in favor of action sequences.  It is somewhat acceptable as an action adventure for young readers, but it's not up to the level of the best YA fiction.

The characters are at times quite interesting.  Finley turns out to be struggling with multiple personalities along with her powers, and she has an interesting arc as a result.  There is also something of a love triangle that might have been truly fascinating if it has been given more weight rather than danced lightly around.  (I've never read a story in which a love triangle originates from a split personality.)  But I still found myself wanting more depth and better pacing in the development of the relationships.

Ultimately,my judgement of this novel has to be that it contains a lot of potential and the inspiration and ideas are sound, but the execution is lacking.

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