The Girl in the Steel Corset
“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Young X-Men . . .”
In her acknowledgements, Ms. Cross refers to this story as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Young X-Men—a perfect descriptor for this YA venture into steampunk. Readers of historical romance may feel a sense of familiarity about the style and cadence of the story—Kady Cross is a pseudonym for historical romance writer Kathryn Smith.
The main focus of the story (and wearer of the steel corset) is an unusual girl named Finley Jayne. Finley is verging on being unemployable: She has a bad habit of defending herself against those who would take advantage of her lower station— and besting them, thanks to a dark shadow that lies deep within her.
Unfortunately, being a servant in Victorian times means an inequality among the classes in the justice system, and Finley is either sacked immediately, or must run to avoid prosecution. This leaves her without references—and the upper echelons of society do talk among themselves.
She is fast running out of options, and she has no one she can turn to. So it’s a blessing (albeit one fraught with its own kind of danger) when after fighting off yet another rich son come to play with the housemaid, she runs straight into the bicycle of Griffin King. Griffin understands about her shadow-self; after all, he has some hidden talents of his own. His is one of the oldest, most powerful titles in the country, and he uses it to create a safe house for those like him, those with powers or gifts that would otherwise see them used or jailed. For the first time in her life Finley feels like she belongs.
Of course, nothing is ever as easy as it could be, and Finley faces distrust from the others in Griffin’s household, danger from the madman they are trying to bring down, and fear of her own shadow-self as it seems to grow stronger and stronger.
The strength in this book lies in the characters. Finley Jayne is wonderful for a young adult readership, strong and vulnerable, with her own insecurities, aspirations, goals, and fears. The Finley/Dark Finley character is textbook Jung, as is the reconciliation between her two parts, and her struggle could easily be related to any part of themselves readers may wish didn’t exist. The secondary characters are also engaging, though readers should be warned: There is an unresolved love triangle. As with the Twilight series, you may find yourself on Team Griffin or Team Jack (this reviewer puts herself firmly in the latter).
The science tends toward deus ex machina as the organites (the main source of power in Ms. Cross’s steampunk universe) display previously unknown benefits at opportune times, though the variety and versatility of the mechs or robots is enjoyable.
There is a mystery plot that engages our characters for most of this novel, but readers will be able to see right through it. Steel Corset is a character and world-building exercise for Ms. Cross, an introduction to the steampunk Scooby gang who will carry through the rest of her series. As such, though there is resolution to a subplot, the remainder of the novel feels unfinished, and readers may be disappointed by the non-ending that clearly leads into book two.
Shortly, this new series shows promise and provided an enjoyable reading experience; however, while the characters and world-building are engaging, readers will have to wait until at least the next book for an equally engaging plot.