________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 40. . . .June 17, 2011.


The Girl in the Steel Corset. (The Steampunk Chronicles).

Kady Cross.
Don Mills, ON: Harlequin, 2011.
473 pp., pbk., $19.99.
ISBN 978-0-373-21033-6.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Amy Dawley.





Something inside her stretched and pulled—still fighting to get out. There was no point in denying it anymore. She had been raised in a loving home with her mother and stepfather—a kind and honest man who doted on them both. He would never dream of such violence—no good man would.

But Lord Felix August-Raynes was not a good man. And it was time someone taught him a lesson.

The warm rush of familiar power brought a slight smile to her battered lips. She gave up all attempts to keep it reigned in. It was the only way she’d survive this night with her virtue and bones intact. It was as though she was watching herself from a perch on the ceiling—all she could do was observe as her other self took over. Her boots shifted on the bare floor, right foot forward, her left foot back and pointed out. She raised her fists.

“Coming back for more, eh?” Felix grinned at her. “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.”

Something strange has been happening to Finley Jayne, and she can’t explain it. It’s as though some dark force has taken over her mind and she finds herself waking up in strange places with no recollection or where she’s been or what she’s done. It gets worse when she realizes that the things she must have done were violent, impossible things that no young human woman would be physically capable of.

     Set in Victorian England, the story follows Finley, a common-born girl destined for a life of housekeeping drudgery in the houses of the privileged and the rich. With a history of not being able to keep jobs because of her “other” self, Finley tries to keep her head down and blend into the background. But when Lord Felix August-Raynes—who has a reputation amongst the hired help for being abusive and sexually predatory—turns his aggressive attentions toward Finley, her darker side takes over and Lord Felix gets seriously injured. When Finley returns to her senses and to the horrific, bloody scene around her, she flees for her life, hoping to put as much distance between her and the scene of the attack.

     Finley’s escape throws her directly into the path of the Duke of Greythorn—Griffin King—and his companions, who is duty-bound as a gentleman to come to the aid of a distressed woman. Griffin is no stranger to unexplained powers and soon realizes that there’s more to Finley than he first thought. With the help of Emily and Sam—his two loyal companions who have special powers of their own—Griffin works to befriend a wary Finley and help her to gain control of her volatile powers.

     Meanwhile, Griffin, Emily, and Sam have been tracking the actions of a sinister crime lord known simply as “The Machinist,” who is suspected of being behind several automaton attacks against humans. Automatons—mech-like robots who have been built to do the work of humans—should have safety programming to prevent such tragedies, and these violent altercations have caught the attention of Griffin who is determined to get to the bottom of it. A series of mysterious thefts make them think that The Machinist is plotting something big. With Finley’s help, Griffin and his allies might be able to stop him.

     Kady Cross, better known as romance author Kathryn Smith, has written a terrifically fun and entertaining steampunk novel for young adults, one that expertly blends romance, adventure, and mystery all into one satisfying package. Weaving together the lush and detailed setting of the Victorian era, complete with curious steampunk technology and a motley cast of young adult characters who have special powers, Cross’ first novel in “The Steampunk Chronicles” is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The interesting and detailed descriptions of steampunk fashion—specifically Finley’s famous armoured steel corset—and unique technologies help readers to imagine the sights and sounds of Kady Cross’ world, and some readers may be pulled into The Girl in the Steel Corset for those reasons alone.

     Though the novel is free of overt sexual encounters or extreme violence, there is more than enough romantic tension and intrigue, and it is this, combined with an intricate plot, that makes this title more suitable for grade 10 students and up. The Girl in the Steel Corset is definitely a teen/adult cross-over title and would suit public library collections where adult readers are frequent browsers. Give this book to fans of Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series, or any other readers that are drawn toward stories that features teens with special powers or alternate histories with undertones of romance and mystery. Teens who gravitate toward fantasy stories featuring strong female characters such as Tamora Pierce’s “Tortall” stories or Kristin Cashore’s Graceling will devour this book.

Highly Recommended.

Amy Dawley is the teen librarian at the Prince George Public Library in Prince George, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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