Last time I wrote about the Have It Both Ways appeal of romantic historical mysteries. That, boiled down, the subgenre allows us our fantasy of gorgeous clothes and witty banter while allowing us to maintain our modern Grrl Power sensibilities. As I read Kady Cross’ The Girl in the Steel Corset (Harlequin, 2011), it occurred to me that the same can be said of steampunk romances—with one important addition. Steampunk romances have everything that romantic historical mysteries have...AND they have automatons!

And really, what’s cooler than automatons?

Read more about the awesome YA novel Beauty Queens.

While The Girl in the Steel Corset isn’t the first YA book to jump into the steampunk romance arena*, it is the first one to generate loads of buzz among YA readers without the benefit of name recognition** (like Cassandra Clare), controversy (like Jaclyn Dolamore) or well-deserved critical acclaim (like Catherine Fisher). Some of the excitement can definitely be chalked up to steampunk’s current popularity, some to the pretty cover***, and some to the Jekyll and Hyde meets X-Men meets James Bond meets Westworld storyline.

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At any rate, it’s safe to say that the buzz isn’t coming from an Amazingly Original Plot or from any Fantastic Prose Stylings. Despite the neat-o components it includes, the plot is as linear and familiar can be. The Big Bad is easily identifiable, the mistakes the characters make are Classic Blunders, and the secondary characters are likable, but never transcend their archetypes: Noble rich man. Gentleman criminal****. Brilliant girl scientist. Soft-hearted giant. Honorable, folksy cowboy. Crazed, self-righteous villain.

The pages turn quickly due to the fast-paced plotting, but the prose is extremely repetitive. For instance, Emily the Brilliant Girl Scientist has red dreadlocks. Here’s how I know:

“...she pushed her ropey hair out of her face...” (p28)

“Emily tucked a chunk of bright red hair behind her ear...” (p29)

“Her bright, ropey hair...” (p49)

“...small girl with her strange red hair...” (p53)

“Her ropey hair...” (p103)

“...the ropes of her bright red hair...” (p151)

“Ropey red hair...” (p161)

“Little Emily with her ropey hair...” (p202)

“...impossibly red hair.” (p224)

“Locks of thick, twisted red hair...” (p293)

“...her ropey copper hair...” (p346)

She also has blue eyes (three times), and has a habit of saying “lad” (seven times) because she’s Irish (nine times). Finley Jayne, meanwhile, likes to wear her hair in a “messy bun” (three times, including Princess Leia buns!). There’s also the occasional awkward infodump, and the dialogue sometimes sounds more contemporary than Victorian. Fair’s fair though—there are also plenty of clever bits:

Her chin came up defiantly. “Do I look like a murderer to you?”

Griffin smiled. “Jack the Ripper had a very gentle countenance.”

“But they never caught...” Something in his expression prevented her from completing the protest. (p74)

Flaws aside, it’ll be perfect for the beach, and I’m desperately hoping that someone will adapt it for television.


* For a start, see Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel (Margaret K. McElderry, 2010), Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass (Bloomsbury, 2009) or Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron (Dial, 2010).

** Kady Cross is a pseudonym used by romance author Kathryn Smith. While Smith is well-known to adult readers, Cross is a debut author in the YA world.

*** Pretty, but it doesn’t remotely reflect Finley Jayne’s style: She tends to run around in garters, big boots, a corset and the Victorian era version of hotpants. (Note to the ladies: You’ll have a much easier time dragging your guy to the inevitable movie version than you did dragging him to the Twilight movie.)

**** I’m on Team Dandy. Archetype-or-no, I’m a sucker for gentleman criminals.

If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.