The Girl in the Steel Corset

Cross, Kady.The Girl in the Steel Corset (2011). 480 Pages. Harlequin Teen. $10.58

Steampunk Chronicles: Book One

This review is pre-release: It comes out May 24th, 2011.

From Amazon:

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.

First Lines

London, 1897

The moment she saw the young man walking down the darkened hall toward her, twirling his walking stick, Finley Jayne knew she’d be unemployed before the sun rose. Her third dismissal in as many months.

She tensed and slowed her steps, but she did not stop. She kept her head down, but was smart enough not to take her gaze off him. Perhaps he would walk right by her, as though she were as invisible as servants were supposed to be.


There’s a lot going on here. The author herself says that she was aiming for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets teenage X-Men, which is sort of what you get, in a vague way. If you throw in a visit to Hot Topic and a hint of The Great Mouse Detective, you’ll have a better sense of the book. There are a lot of mandarin collars, brocade silk corsets*, facial** and ear piercings, a bit of tattooing, and other things which felt… anachronistic. I do realize that accusing a steampunk novel of being anachronistic of all things is a bit absurd, but it really did feel that way. It was like too much punk was put into the steampunk.

There were numerous other things I was irritated by, the first of which being the fact that it was shoe-horned into young adult by having teenage characters. Not only would adult characters have made more sense than our teenage heroes, but they would have allowed a bit more depth to the romance. There are two love triangles, lots of jealousy, and exactly one kiss in this novel.

Other irritations include adjective use (Emily’s hair is ropey, whatever that means, and is always described that way), the emphasis on strange clothing, the indecision regarding corsets as inner our outer wear (see *), and the lack of character depth and back-story. We’re sort of thrown into the middle of everything, and what backstory/relationship building we get is told, never shown. The last big issue for me was the very… fanficness of the story. Finley Jayne has an odd name, a mysterious past, special powers, dual personalities which allow her to be a good girl and a bad girl, a knack for getting taken in by powerful boys with soft hearts and full wallets, and hair which acquires black… stripes. I mean, seriously? Can you get more Sue-ish?

Regardless of how it sounds, I did like this book despite its many flaws. Organites are fascinating, and make a good plot device. The world is well enough built, and was entertaining. The plot is reasonable. It’s a little too obvious– I knew the baddie from the first appearance and was just waiting for the characters to catch up. There’s a lot going on; bad men and organites, wearing fancy clothing***, gaining control of special powers, two different love triangles, jealousy, teen angst, fancy clothing, and a bit of good old fashioned violence.

It’s not a difficult read, or a long one, despite page count. It’s not an amazing, astounding, or brilliant novel, but it was fun to read, and roll my eyes at, and chuckle at. I genuinely liked Finley, despite her sueisms, and I wanted her to succeed. If you go into it expecting to be entertained, and not expecting perfection or brilliance, you, too, may like this book. It gets a 3/5.

On a side note (not that I don’t have enough of those) I absolutely loved the cover.

For a secondary aside, check out this rather entertaining review of The Girl in the Steel Corset by Impromptu Romance Review. Then, if you’re feeling brave, check out their review of Raine. If you don’t know the meaning of NMS, don’t click it, if you do, be warned.


* They’re apparently both undergarments and… outerwear. I don’t know why you’d need to wear a corset on top of a corset, but depending upon the outfit, it’s either on the outside or the inside. I’d have been ok with one or the other, but the switching got to me.

** Griffin’s aunt wears a six-strand nose chain. Seriously? I mean, really? A lady, wearing a nose chain, and actually, not just one, but six??

*** When I was first learning to write stories, I spent pages on clothing, describing it down to the last detail. My mother’s critique was always “Does knowing what she’s wearing really add anything to the story? Is it significant to the plot that she’s wearing this particular outfit? If the answer is no, then cut back a bit.” Cross might have benefited from this advice.


Disclosure: I got a free copy for review.

Still interested? Consider buying it via this link.


Filed under Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction

5 responses to “The Girl in the Steel Corset

  1. Hi there. Thank you for taking time to review the book. I’ll address some of your concerns, if you don’t mind. The corsets are worn beneath or over clothing depending on the desired look — they never wear two at a time. The clothing is a big part of the genre, but also my beta readers wanted to know what people were wearing.

    Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a debut author. As Kathryn Smith I’ve got about 20 books under my belt and am a USA Today bestseller.

    And you brought up something interesting that I’ve been hearing. You mention Cordelia having a nose chain — that it would be odd for a lady. My girls wear pants, which would have been terribly scandalous in the real Victorian era, but I’m writing about a time that never happened, so in my world ladies can wear whatever they want. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but I have found that several reviewers have had trouble with things that would have not been proper in the Victorian era. They had no trouble with the inventions, but with things that have been ingrained as improper behavior. I find that really interesting.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to review the book. I wish it had been a little more enjoyable for you, but I’m glad you didn’t hate it. 🙂


    • See, that’s the thing. Despite all my issues? I really liked your book. I’ll definitely be reading any sequels, and I genuinely cared about the characters still when I got to the end. So please don’t see this as a bad review, because I’m far from disliking it.

      I think the thing with the “proper behavior” comes from the fact that with most steampunk, even when things are completely…. steam-y, the behaviors & standards of the Victorian era are strictly maintained. Propriety was key to Victorian society, and so it remains key to most steam-punk novels. At least, most of the time. Not when it gets in the way of romance or adventure, only when it adds tension to the novel.

      I got hung up about the nose chains because picturing a lady– a Duke’s sister, no less– with six strands of metal going across her face was… difficult. In my mind, piercings are a very modern thing, and that paired with everything which was meant to be historical threw me pretty badly. Especially since facial piercings were apparently a thug-mark (August-Raynes’ piercing made him a Dandy, what makes Cordelia different?) The clothing was a little too detailed for me (obviously) but I noticed how that began to fade into the background later in the novel– when Griff notes that she’s wearing her “favorite” shorts/corset/top rather than describing the full outfit again– and I appreciated that.

      I don’t know where I got that you were a debut author though. Hm. Will have to figure that one out. I’ll be editing that out of the review and doing a bit of investigation.


  2. Mia

    I’m a little tired of the steampunk thing at this point, but this one looks like it might be fun. Of course, whether I would be able to read it depends on my ability to get over the fact that there’s a character named Griffin, as I know someone by that name and really don’t like him very much these days. I know that’s not the author’s fault, though.


  3. I have this one from NetGalley, but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Glad it’s a fun, fast read. I wanted to read it because I like the steampunk series the Parasol Protectorate and wanted to try out another steampunk book.
    Just found your blog through the WP young adult tag and am looking forward to following your reviews! It looks like we have similar taste in books.


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