Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: THE GIRL IN THE STEEL CORSET by Kady Cross

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.
Uff da. I highlighted this book in a Wishlist Wednesday post a few weeks back, so I just HAD to snatch it up when I found it sitting atop my sister's library pile. One week, an entire scrap paper full of notes, and a bemused brain later, I'm still eyeing The Girl in the Steel Corset (henceforth known as Steel Corset) with wary uncertainty.

Why? Oh dear, let me recount to you the reasons.
The book opens with Finley returning to her room late at night. She had stayed up doing proper, lady-in-waiting things but is now ready for bed. Unfortunately, she's stopped by a Dandy lord who is determined to make her his next conquest by any means necessary. When he refuses to desist, she pounds him to a pulp.

As much as I dislike the name Finley, I adored the character during this scene. The whole bad-man-harasses-an-innocent-maiden trope is really old, but Ms. Cross made sure Finley came out swinging. Literally! I mean, tell me this dialogue doesn't make you cackle with evil glee:
"Coming back for more, eh?" Felix grinned. "I like a little fight in my girls."

She grinned at him, causing blood to dribble down her chin. "Then you're going to love me."
Heehee! I'm reading this scene, beaming from ear to ear like a bloodthirsty Cheshire Cat, and writing things on Goodreads like, "GIVE HIM THE CHAIR! THE CHAIR!!" It's so refreshing when a girl can rescue herself.

Happy notes abounded for the moment as I inwardly commented on the fight scene, Finley's strength and inner darkness, and the interesting concept of the Dandies, followers of Jack Dandy, who are known by the different metal piercings they put in their face. (Felix, for example, had a brass bar in his eyebrow.) I thought the piercings were a great visual that would work well in a movie.

But then my notes turned somewhat sour as the first of many, many info dumps began. Ms. Cross seemed to have a compulsion to explain so many things. One info dump is annoying. More than one is just baffling. The majority of the info being shoveled onto the poor reader (me!) could have been explained organically in the course of the story.

Then I'm flying high again as we meet Griffin, Emily, and Sam. They were such a fun bunch. Griffin is a fairly stereotypical hero - the rich orphan who shoulders too much responsibility. Emily is an Irish redhead and a technological genius who saved the life of Sam, who resents her for replacing his dying parts with metal. Follow me so far? Each character had a spark of something great. I love Batman, so surely I'd love Griffin. I don't mind unrequited love if it's between secondary characters, so I was willing to give Emily a chance, especially since she's a techhead. And Sam! Who wouldn't be freaked out to find various body parts replaced with cyborg components?

I'm afraid, however, that I returned to the land of bitterness and stayed there throughout the book as far as this group was concerned. Griffin went from tolerably good and somewhat rakish to blindingly good and clownishly stereotyped through the arc of the story. I should've recognized the warning signs. I mean, his name is Griffin King, for heavens sake. He goes to a masquerade ball dressed as a lion. The author tried to make him somewhat flawed, I think, by making him do stupid things where Finley was involved, but they were all stupid things based on his too-noble impulses. Blaugh.

As for Emily and Sam? I liked Emily. She was strong, smart, and sweet. The only bad note I have no her is the author's compulsion to describe her as "even paler than normal" any time she had to convey strong, negative emotion. She's pale. I get it. Find a fresh way to describe her. Oh but Sam. He started out so strong! He was beefy and moody and clearly head-over-heels for Emily. (Well, it was clear to everyone but her.) He even had a dramatic revelation near the beginning of the book. But no, he couldn't stay awesome. Excuse the imagery, but Sam had his head so far up his rectum that he was swimming in his small intestines. He was whiny, petulant, oafish, and stupid. I had to shovel through less whining in Twilight, for heavens sake.

My mood stayed low to the ground through most of the book. I thought the writing was clunky, overly dramatic, and too willing to rest upon unbelievable coincidences. There were too many times I snorted and went "Yeah, right!" HOW could Griffin's aunt guess Finley's parentage so quickly? HOW could Finley's mother not know about her mood issues? And how many times could Ms. Cross write "It was at that moment that..." before I went insane?!

Ugh. Even the big moments weren't all that big. One key source of turmoil for Finley is her split personality. When living as herself, Finley is the sweet, placid, nauseatingly amiable little blonde that everyone knew and loved. (And every male she encountered, no lie, lusted after, which she couldn't understand "because it wasn't as thought she was uncommonly beautiful or anything." That's a direct quote, people.) When she feels threatened or angered, Finley morphs into her dark half, the same one that punched out Lord Felix. Bad Finley is edgy, sarcastic, snarky, and laughs in the face of danger. Bad Finley is cool, but also out of control and homicidal. So when Griffin presents an opportunity for her to merge her two selves, she jumps at it.

One paragraph. It took one paragraph for Finley to combine her personalities. Even worse, we didn't get to see it happen, because she was hypnotized during the entire process and learned about it from Griffin. One stinkin' paragraph to solve the main character's biggest personal crisis. Ms. Cross really deus ex-ed the heck out of that machina.

The other big problem was the Machinist, the baddie mentioned in the synopsis. In the background of the book, he's up to vague, sinister hijinks, such as stealing a wax bust of Queen Victoria and causing various automatons to revolt. I put together his master plan way faster than the characters, but I didn't want to believe my own conclusion. I felt like I'd heard this twist somewhere before. Then I remembered. It's from a freaking cartoon. Yes, the Machinist's EXACT PLAN is from a cartoon movie that I shall not name. And not something ingenious like a Pixar movie, either. (If you want to know what movie, email me or soemthing. I don't want to spoil the twist in a public forum.)

At this point, you're probably wondering why I wrote that I was eyeing this book with "wary uncertainty." Surely, with all of these negatives, Steel Corset warranted a DNF? Normally, yes. But there's one character that I haven't mentioned yet, one that I loved so dearly that I slogged through the rest of the book just to await his next appearance.

How I picture Jack. Yummy.
Jack Dandy. Jack Dandy, leader of the Dandies, is one delicious bad boy. Dark and mysterious, he dresses completely in black and rules the underworld of London with a carefully affected Cockney accent and devil-may-care attitude. Of course, he's not all bad and inexplicably falls for Finley in a most charming manner. He's bad to the bone but also caring and dashing. He has the edge that Griffin lacks. Like Warner in Shatter Me, he leaves the readers hoping for his ultimate redemption. Personally, I hope Ms. Cross kills off Griffin, saves Dandy, and sends him into the sunset with Finley.

Conclusion? Steel Corset boasts laughably poor writing, annoying characters, and a ridiculous plot, all of which are even more annoying because of the seeds of potential greatness that turned sour. Yet I fully intend to read the sequel just so I can skip to the parts about Dandy. Mmmm, Dandy.

Points Added For: Some great ideas (an uncontrollable dark side, using classic tales, a conflicted cyborg, a crime boss with a soft spot, etc.), Jack Dandy.

Points Subtracted For: Not properly utilizing the great ideas, clunky writing, a sickeningly good love interest, a whole mess of telling instead of showing.

Good For Fans Of: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, Firelight by Sophie Jordan, steampunk, bad boys.

Notes For Parents: Language, violence, Felix tries to assault Finley. (We also learn that he had previously assaulted another girl so severely that she ended up in the hospital.)

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