Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

In New York City, 1897, life has never been more thrilling - or dangerous. 
Sixteen-year-old Finley Jayne and her "straynge band of mysfits" have journeyed from London to America to rescue their friend Jasper, hauled off by bounty hunters. But Jasper is in the clutches of a devious former friend demanding a trade-the dangerous device Jasper stole from him...for the life of the girl Jasper loves. 
One false move from Jasper and the strange clockwork collar around Mei's neck tightens. And tightens.

The Steampunk Chronicles and I appear to have a bit of a love hate relationship. On the one hand there are some things that are truly appalling about the books, and yet there is something incredibly compelling about them as well, for no matter how peeved I may get with elements of it, and the number of times I chuck the book across the room, I have to finish it, I have to know what happens, and as a result I have to read the next book.

I had a lot of issues with the first book in the series ‘The Girl in the Steel Corset’ and thankfully some of my grumps were address in this book – thank god Emily’s hair is only referred to as ‘ropey’ once in this book, as opposed to the three times a page in the last book. The writing has, by and large, improved. Yes there were still awkward passages and some threads of the story that were incredibly weak (they did fit into the whole, but I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Tesla’s thread of the story.) But for the most part this was a much stronger book than the first one.

The biggest frustration for me was the characterization. There’s a lot of telling instead of showing going on throughout the book, and the characters remain two dimensional for the most part, which is tragic because there are some truly stunning ideas and concepts that are attempted. I love the idea of the characters, but they never truly came alive for me. The secondary characters remained weak at best, and I never really felt like they became real, they were just a backdrop and provided plot devices. I’d love to see Sam developed, at the moment he is the weakest character for me, and I want to see more of the relationship between Sam and Emily. Finley and Griffin remain very stiff for me, there’s no real spark between them, and very sudden and abrupt changes in mood and feeling towards each other. I want to love these characters, I want to root for them, I want to cry and laugh with them, and really feel what they’re going through – there is something so completely captivating about the story, but it never really takes off in my eyes.

I liked the change of setting and pace, this book was a lot faster in pace and really kept things ticking along at a great speed. I liked that there was less of a push to describe some of the steampunk aspects like the clothes, and leave that to the readers imagination, because that was one of my big problems with the first book. As far as I’m concerned, Steampunk books have to have a solid foundation in the reality of the era before branching out into the weird and wonderful stuff, and that includes clothes. There has to be some basis in reality, some real and believable shift that would cause changes in clothing, like goggles and weighted dresses and hair-muffs for dirigible travel (see Gail Carriger’s ‘The Parasol Protectorate series.’) And Cross took a few too many leaps in the first book with women’s clothing that were a bit beyond the stretch of imagination. To go from the Victorian era where even showing ankle was a shocking thing, to Finley effectively wearing a Victorian style of hot pants and a corset were really a bridge too far in my eyes… So it was really nice to have that side of things left to the reader’s imagination. I loved a lot of the technology we saw, although again, I would have loved a little more of a scientific explanation about how these things were possible, but that’s just something I personally love seeing. I really felt that a lot of the things that I love about Steampunk books are not really looked at, or stretched beyond all reason.

Whilst I loved the conflict, I really, really truly loathed Mei. And not just because of her name… In fact can we take a moment to look at that name. I wouldn’t have spotted it ( or at least not for much longer) if Finley hadn’t made a big deal about pointing it out. Why call a character such a ridiculous name and then make a big deal about pointing it out? Mei Xing. I’m sorry but from the point that her name was revealed I couldn’t take her seriously, I wanted to scream every time her name was mentioned. Now maybe this is just me, maybe other readers will see that, have a chuckle and move on, but for me to name a character like that, deliberately, and with no real purpose behind it except that one moment of Finley noticing it and thinking it’s ridiculous, is just asking for your character to not be taken seriously from that point on. Any further characterization was, for me, ruined because I just wanted to throw things at her every time she entered a room.

However, despite my grumps, as I said there is something very compelling about this series. You want to read on and find out what happens. You want to see how they’ll get out of this, and what sort of world building excitements are coming up. The premise is fantastic, the writing is much better than the first book, but there are still some weak moments. My only real problem now is the characterization, so I’ve got all my hopes pinned on this next book that maybe the third time really will be the charm for me, and the third book and I will finally hit it off. At that point it will all have been worth it.

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