I don’t know about you, but even in the most fantastic of genres, I don’t need to be constantly reminded of what it is: “Remember, this is the FUTURE! Remember, this world has MAGIC! Remember, this is a DYSTOPIAN!” So it irked me a bit that I felt The Steampunk Chronicles continually making sure I remembered that they were set in a steampunk world. I get it. I knew it going into the book, and I wasn’t likely to forget.
However, despite my reservations, I decided to go ahead and read the second book, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar. I had high hopes that maybe it would improve on the promising elements of the first book, and not be quite so heavy-handed in its execution.
[Warning: Spoilers from TGitSC ahead]
There are fewer plot elements going on here than in TGitSC. It doesn’t try to accomplish nearly so much, which is good. Also, the clockwork collar is actually a significant plot element, and Mei a significant character, making the title and the cover not nearly as superfluous as the last book (while Finley does sport a steel corset for part of TGitSC, it’s pretty irrelevant to the plot. And don’t even get me started on the cover). It also doesn’t engage in quite so much bludgeoning with the steampunk concept. We’re not reminded every other paragraph about Sam’s metal hand or the automaton in the corner or about Finley’s seemingly never-ending supply of lacy corsets. So that was nice.
And again, I love the idea for the story. I love the concept of steampunk, the imagery, the possibilities. I feel like Kady Cross was really on to something when she came up with the idea for this story and these characters. Steampunk + superpowers + mystery = good.
While not as bad as the first book in terms of cramming in too many unnecessary elements, this book still had its share of stuff that would have been better left on the cutting room floor. For example, the character of Nikola Tesla was thrown in, and he was completely unnecessary. Yes, he and Edison were the two geniuses inventing crazy gadgets around the turn of the century, and so it would have made sense to mention him, as Edison was mentioned. But he didn’t really need to be a character. He didn’t add anything (nothing he did was significantly outside Emily’s realm of expertise) to the development of the character or story.
And as for the characters who are necessary, the only one who really developed from the last book was Jasper. The other four main characters stay basically the same. Finley is still torn between her “dark” and “light” sides (which got old a while ago…like midway through the first book). Griffin is still rich and struggling to control his connection with the Aether (which the book says is a constant thing, but it actually only seems like he struggles with it when he feels like it…but more on that later). Sam is still dark and brooding and smitten with Emily and angry about the machine parts inside of him. Emily is still a mechanical genius and a little Irish spitfire who is inexplicably in love with Sam. That’s where they start, and that’s where they end. There was no noticeable development arc with any of them, and for me, I don’t care how action-packed a book is. If the characters don’t develop, I don’t see the point.
Also, I still felt the entire Aether subplot pretty clunky and unnecessary. I feel like it was an idea that could have worked if it was developed right, but it wasn’t. It comes across as a weird supernatural element, just for the sake of having a weird supernatural element. All the major plot points could have been hit using just technology and the pervasive Organites. It seemed like the only reason it was in there was so that Griffin could have some kind of superpower, but really, Griffin doesn’t need a superpower. I kind of think he’d be more interesting without one, to be honest.
Here’s where I may rant just a tad. So before I do, let me just say, I have nothing but respect for any author who has an idea and develops it and works hard and gives up months/years of their life in an effort to bring their story to people. Good ideas aren’t easy to come by, people. Have you ever tried coming up with an idea for an original book? It’s hard. And Kady Cross really had a good idea with this book, and its predecessor. I completely respect her and the effort that went into writing and publishing it.
And just because I’m about to rant about some things that bothered me, doesn’t mean that you won’t adore this book. Plenty have. I just wasn’t one of them, and for those of you out there whose taste does tend to mirror my own, I’m going to tell you why.
I think it all boils down to one main concept, and that is “Show, don’t Tell.”
If you haven’t heard of this before, basically all it means is that when it comes to reading, I want to experience things for myself. I want to be shown the world, immersed in it, and feel like I know the characters and understand their feelings. I want to be allowed to come to my own conclusions. I want to experience the book. That’s “Showing.”
“Telling” is when the reader is told how to feel, what to think, where to focus. It takes the reader out of the story (if the reader was ever in the story to begin with) and often creates a feeling of disconnect between the words on the page and what is actually happening in the story.
For example, saying “He found her very attractive” really doesn’t draw the reader into the story. On the other hand, saying how his heart beat faster and his breath quickened when their fingers accidentally brushed together – that’s showing (and please don’t tear my example to shreds; I’m spitballing here). You never have to be told he finds her attractive — you can see it and feel it in his reaction to her. And that was one of the problems with this book.
However, the main problem with Telling instead of Showing in this book was that oftentimes characters wouldn’t act in line with what we are told about them. Instead, we’ll be told they feel a certain way, then they act in a completely contrary way.
Some examples (and there may be some minor spoilers down below):
What we are told: Dalton is nothing like Jack Dandy, the seedy criminal that Finley befriends in TGitSC
What we are shown: Dalton is exactly like Jack Dandy, except we actually see him kill people (Jack just hires people to kill people).
What we are told: Finley, Sam, and Griffin should fear for their lives when they get terribly wounded
What we are shown: Finley, Sam, and Griffin never have anything to worry about because they’re all freakin’ Wolverine.
What we are told: Jasper loves Mei because of her tragic past, her sweet personality, and the trials they’ve experienced together.
What we are shown: Jasper likes Mei because she is pretty.
What we are told: Tesla and Emily understand the Aether well enough to harness it and build inventions that utilize it productively.
What we are shown: Tesla and Emily haven’t the first clue what the Aether is or how it works.
What we are told: Griffin and Finley are concerned about propriety and their different stations in life, and aren’t sure of their feelings toward each other.
What we are shown: Griffin and Finley don’t care a lick about propriety and are obviously totally into each other.
What we are told: Finley wears corsets all the time, and is able to fight, kick, jump, and otherwise bounce around like an acrobat while wearing them.
What we are shown: Whatever Finley’s wearing can’t possibly be a corset, because I’ve worn a corset, and they are not flexible.
What we are told: Griffin is powerful and muscular, and Finley is small and strong.
What we are shown: Either Griffin is a scrawny beanpole of a man, or Finley is far more voluptuous than she’s described, since she can barely fit into his clothes.
I could keep going, but that would be excessive. I think you get my point.
And my very last two issues with the book, which are completely random:
1. Emily is constantly (CONSTANTLY) described as having “ropey” hair. And I don’t know what that means. Does she have dreadlocks? Somehow, I doubt it. But that’s the only descriptor we’re ever given: “ropey.” What does that mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN???
2. Mei Xing? Really? This is her name? Also, it would not be pronounced like “amazing,” as Finley so often jokes. The Chinese pronunciation of “Xing” (which is what they’d be using, since Mei is Chinese. Duh.) is “Shing.” So beside the fact that a random race joke was attempted with this terrible name, the joke isn’t even accurate.
Overall, while I thought some elements improved from the first book, I found myself irritated and fighting to get through this one. I won’t be reading the third one, if/when it is released. Which is sad, because as I said before, I love the idea of steampunk. And the covers are so very, very pretty.