Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
The darkness is growing in Finley Jayne. When the lowly lady's maid is attacked by the spoiled and dangerous Lord Felix, her story should end as tragically as those who came before her -- yet it doesn't. Finley is special. Dangerous. Deadly. The incredible strength and wild ferocity that overtake her in moments of crisis are terrifying, even as they save her life. Fortunately, her encounter with Lord Felix throws her into the path of Duke Griffin King -- the one man in Victorian London who may be able to save Finley from herself.
In The Girl in the Steel Corset, Kady Cross builds her own rich, vibrant version of Victorian London. The unusual flow of the narration befits the beautiful cadence of the period and immerses readers in this alternate world. Though the history is rather different from the one with which we're all familiar, some recognizable names trickle into conversation and ground the novel in our reality. Cross weaves the paranormal into this multifaceted world, combining the spiritual plane with her steampunk history and piquing readers' imaginations with the bizarre technology that populates this universe -- from automatons to velocycles to aether engines. I would have liked to see some of the steampunk tech treated in more detail, helping readers to envision these fascinating foreign objects.
Unfortunately, the characters fall a little flat. Though Finley is fierce and could be fabulous, she despises the part of her that makes her strong -- villainzing half of her personality and trying hard to stamp out her combative nature. She is also a little elusive as a character. The novel is written in third person, alternating perspectives, and though it initially seems as though this is Finley's story, by the end I felt as though I didn't really know her at all. She still outshines the rest of the cast, however. Sam, the muscle of the group, wallows in self-pity and self-loathing for most of the novel, behaving selfishly and hatefully toward his long-suffering friends. Griffin, the leader of the pack and hero of the piece, is appallingly self-satisfied and entitled. He treats his friends like servants and frequently reflects on his status and intelligence.
Thankfully there is Emily, the true brains of the operation. Emily is sweet but fiesty, never hesitating to put her self-righteous male friends in their place. If only the men didn't insist on trivializing her indignation as the kittenish temper of an "annoyed pixie"!* Then there's Jack Dandy, the antihero who haunts the dark and deadly places. His enigmatic mix of intelligence and swagger is captivating from the start, and I would gladly read an entire novel devoted solely to his exploits. Cross skillfully evokes his assumed Cockney accent so powerfully that readers will think they hear it whispering in their ears. His involvement in the love triangle fortunately saves the fizzling embers from dying out.
Ultimately, though the story is innovative and the world-building is luscious, the characters' failings sadly distract from the novel's immense potential.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this novel at BEA. This did not affect my review in any way.