The Girl in the Steel Corset
By Kate Locke
Warning! Minor spoilers!
FINLEY JAYNE, our late 19th century English heroine, can knock full-grown men out cold in a corset made out of steel, no less. No wonder she is ill-tempered. Paying homage to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as reminiscent of Oliver Twist, Kate Locke’s steampunk The Girl in the Steel Corset introduces us to a group of peculiar outsiders, whose newest addition thrashes back and forth between her good and evil natures.
The first couple chapters are exhilarating, as there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a leering brute get taken out by someone he underestimates. Once serving girl Finley comes back to the reality that she has defended herself against someone of upper class, she goes on the run to escape the consequences. She meets Griffin King, who takes her under his wing like the Artful Dodger, and meets fellow uncanny miscreants such as a part-robot and a genius inventor.
Unfortunately, it is here that the book begins to lose its suspense and the plot slows to a meandering crawl around a very surface level exploration of the characters’ lives. There is a shadowy villain, the Machinist, who, predictably, lurks from the shadows and doesn’t effectively establish himself as a menacing threat. Sam, who is part-robot, is super-charged aggressively hostile toward Emily, an inventor, and by the end of it, I still wasn’t convinced as to his reasons for being so. It just made him immensely dislikeable. And Griffin was a bland leader with none of the Artful Dodger’s charm.
All of the potential of Finley’s dual character is lost as she is relegated to share the stage with Griffin’s point of view. It would be an interesting exercise if Griffin didn’t exist and Finley served as the sole main character, gathering the other misfits to her side, and having a more personal, intense relationship with the Machinist in order to build up the tension. Griffin didn’t really serve as anything, certainly not as the fascinating subtle bad influence like the Dodger demonstrated, like the type of mentor who seemingly has good intentions, but whom the more naive “Oliver” character (Finley) needs to learn to establish her independence against. Rather, he just served as a disinteresting romantic prospect and not essential to the plot. Without Griffin, I would venture to say that Finley’s other romantic interest, the swaggering Cockney crime lord Jack Dandy, would still have given the story enough spice.
As such, I am hesitant to continue the series, as the stage is just too over-crowded to provide a more intense, deeper characterization of not just the protagonists, but even of the steampunk world itself. The Girl in the Steel Corset feels like it is trying to be too many things (a romance, a steampunk noir mystery, a philosophical struggle between good and evil natures), and in the end, leaves none of them memorable. I would recommend the series to readers looking for a more light-hearted, slow-paced romance with bits of steampunk magic here and there.
Recommended for fans of: Cassandra Clare, Colleen Houck, and Shelley Adina
Upcoming Book Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer