By Kady Cross
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 24th, 2011
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.
There are often books that play on stereotypes. Some of them do so cleverly, exaggerating the stereotype into comedy or twisting it into a subtler or subverted rendition. I was really hoping that this book would be something like that when I picked it up. Unfortunately, it was exactly as the author described it: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets X-Men. There was no nuance, no subtlety, just a blast of steampunk that felt like a SyFy channel special.
I keep waffling between giving this book 2 or 3 stars (2.5?) Finley Jayne was fun to read about, and I appreciated the stereotype twist where she and Emily, the other main female character, were continually rescuing the men in one way or another. I’m not sure it is possible to dislike Griffin–he really doesn’t seem to have many faults, although that does make him occasionally boring. He’s always perfect in any situation he comes into contact with. Sam was more understandable as a character, although also quite a lot more annoying. The American Cowboy Gallant was an obvious character type that I let slide, and I was intrigued by Jack Dandy despite myself. There was no real purpose to his being in the book, except to put into place a love triangle and a bit of intrigue, but he was still one of the most ‘real’ characters.
That’s the problem, really–there wasn’t much in this book that didn’t feel flat. Many of the characters like Griffin had no actual personality or characteristics, besides being everything that was needed for the situation. The plot made no attempt to be anything other than ordinary…love triangle, motorcycle chases, automatons, a villain missing a hand, etc. There were clear ‘allusions’, or steals, from Frankenstein and Jekyll and Hyde. Mentions of Queen Victoria and Darwin felt somewhat exaggerated, there was something that worked a lot like a seance and a miraculous organism causing evolution. It felt like Kady Cross thought of one vaguely interesting character, Finley, and then patched together everything labeled ‘steampunk’ to surround her. It was a rousing action novel, just not much more.
What almost annoyed me more, though, were the attempts of the author to be creative. She deviated from traditional Victoriana fashion-wise, starting with mentions of striped stockings and leather corsets, and continuing to throw in kimonos, knee skirts and shorts as the mood took her (this wouldn’t normally be a sin, except I’m obsessed with historical fashion, and feel rather personally wounded that someone would so blatantly ignore what the Victorian Era actually meant, fashion-wise). The Victorian motorcycles were another addition that felt unnecessary. That was what, in my humble opinion, transformed the book from merely bland steampunk to something resembling a Comic-Con convention. Those little touches were what convinced me Kady Cross hadn’t ever thought about clever ways to play with the Victorian Period. I’m fairly certain that she just went to a steampunk convention and jotted notes while meandering through. There could also have been a little more editing. There was one moment when a character (whose jaw had supposedly been broken on the previous page) continued to talk and plan with another character, instead of writhing around in agony, that irked me on a ‘common sense’ level.
The plot was also, well, less than stellar. A good quarter of the book is taken up by a short story, heavily influenced by Frankenstein, which has no connection to the rest of the book except that Finley is also the main character.
I have to say, I still somewhat like this book–for a steampunk book mixing so many influences, it could have turned out a lot worse. But I’m also disappointed, because it could have turned out so much better. Steampunk is a highly inventive genre, involving a mix of historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction, and thus also a challenge. Looking at Girl Genius (technically a comic, but still in my mind the epitome of steampunk), Montmorency, or even Cassandra Clare’s new Clockwork series, this one feels flat and unoriginal.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.