My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The author herself describes this tale as Extraordinary Gentlemen meets X-Men, and that pretty much sums it up. The heroine, Miss Finley Jayne, has the unusually dark side to her personality that occasionally surfaces, usually when Miss Finley is under stress, and turns her into an extremely strong, vicious and forceful version of herself. She finds herself the house guest of Griffon King, Duke of Greythorne, who has some unusual abilities of his own, as do his companions, Emily, Sam and Jasper. They all team up to uncover and thwart the evil Machinist, and incidentally discover the secret of Finley’s dual personality.
This is marketed as a Young Adult (YA) novel. Accordingly, none of the central cast, except for Griffon’s aunt Cordelia, are over 20 years old. If one were to give this novel an MPAA rating it would just barely make it to PG. There is a reasonable amount of violence, but no more than one might expect from a super-hero action story. Any risque behavior is only hinted at, or glossed over entirely. There is a romantic sub-plot that plays rather nicely, the crowning moment of which is realized with a mostly chaste kiss. The confusions and jealousies that lead up to that point definitely added to the tension of the narrative.
Miss Cross incorporates some of the usual steampunk tropes rather well, including automatons, steam carriages, electric ray guns, the aether and a bustling British Empire. For some reason, however, I never really warmed up to the velocycles (steam powered motorbikes) or personal telegraph machines. These may be minor points but these devices left me feeling she could just as easily have set this story in the present, or a near future, rather than the end of the 19th Century.
That said, The Girl in the Steel Corset is an entertaining read with plenty of action and intrigue. The central mysteries — Who is the Machinist?, What is he up to? and What is the source of Finley’s ( and incidentally, Griffin, Jasper, Emily, Sam and Cordelia’s) abilities? — reveal themselves at a satisfying, natural pace. The group dynamics of Greythorne house also progress in a believable way. One of my favorite scenes is when Emily gives Finley the titular Steel Corset.