I don’t recall when I purchased The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross, but I remember being excited about dipping a toe into the steampunk universe. Unfortunately, it got lost in the pile of virtual novels on my Kindle, and I kept it hidden for years. When I recently got around to reading it some of my excitement had waned, and I ended up finding the steampunk intriguing but was underwhelmed by the character development and the plot.
The novel began well: teenage Finley Jayne struggles to hold servant jobs because she has two distinct personalities warring in her body; normally she is gentle, passive, and malleable, but when she feels threatened a fierce, violent, and super strong alter ego comes to the fore. Unfortunately, her darker side has just protected her from a peer of the realm, which could get Finley a greater penalty than a lost job. Fleeing the scene she stumbles into orphaned duke, Griffin King, who promises her safety and an answer to the mystery of her two distinct sides.
Unfortunately, the plot line devolved into a mishmash of insane conspiracies, distrust of Finley Jayne, and haphazard romance between almost all the residents of Griffin’s home. With so many different plots it’s no surprise that none of them were developed sufficiently to make me buy into them. Each story line could have carried the novel if it had been fully fleshed out, and pruning back extraneous bits really would have helped. At the same time Kady Cross admits in her author’s notes that she wanted to create a mixture of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and a teenage version of the X-Men, which I can definitely see in the background; I just wanted more from the premise.
The steampunk part of The Girl in the Steel Corset both charmed and bored me because there was just so much random technology. If it had simply been mentioned I don’t think I would have minded because the tech would have been part of the world building, but I didn’t need so much explanation for the items. I’m also not a huge fan of ubiquitous automatons, which was a major part of the villain subplot (which felt like something out of a weak comic book). Admittedly, the automaton thing is a personal preference, and some readers may adore them. I just prefer them to be used sparingly.
Lastly I felt like each of the characters in the book ended up being defined by one or two characteristics instead of being fully developed characters i.e. Finley’s dark side, Griffin’s kindness and ability to manipulate aether, Sam’s strength and distrustfulness. Cross changed the narrator several times during the book, which accentuated my feeling that I hadn’t truly gotten to know anyone deeply.
Kady Cross has plenty of fans who love her Steampunk Chronicles series, and I was disappointed to not add myself to their number. Maybe I just need a different type of steampunk to get my gears going.