I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on August 1st 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Family, Stepfamilies, Science & Technology, Fantasy & Magic
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Nicolette's awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother's knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have pushed her into a life of dreary servitude. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. And the timing may be perfect: There's a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. Determined to invent her own happily-ever-after, Mechanica seeks to wow the prince and eager entrepreneurs alike.
I am definitely that one person who gets ridiculously excited about fairy tale retellings. I even went to go see the latest Disney live action Cinderella in theaters. Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is sort of a steam-punk and fey retelling of Cinderella. I will admit going into this book, I drew a comparison to Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This book, however, is nothing like the Lunar Chronicles series. Rather, it is a unique adaptation of a timeless tale. For the most part I enjoyed reading Mechanica even though it was not entirely what I expected or had hoped for.
Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is about a girl named Nicolette. Nicolette’s mother is an inventor. She has a brilliant mind and a knack for creating automatons. She also doesn’t really seem to get along with Nicolette’s father. Her mother makes use of fey magic in her household and employs a half fey house staff member. Unfortunately, her mother falls ill to this fey based illness and dies. Nicolette’s father then has to work even harder considering her mother’s inventions were the moneymakers.
And so, one day he goes away to sell things and returns with a wife and two sisters for Nicolette. Nicolette expects the two girls to become her best friends, but of course, they are evil step sisters. Then, Nicolette’s dad leaves and ends up dying. So, she is left with an indifferent stepmother and two stepsisters. Soon, Nicolette is made a servant in her own household, rather than being treated like a family member. They soon give her the nickname Mechanica due to her skill with mechanics and interest in inventing. Nicolette lets this roll off her shoulders though, she has the inventor’s exposition to look forward to and her step sisters are preoccupied with the ball and hopefully winning the attention of the Heir.
Nicolette is an interesting main character. She’s different from the other iterations of Cinderella. For one thing, she has a very capable head on her shoulders and is solely focused on saving herself. She even has a plan to get out from under the thumb of her stepmother. I love that her goal is to become financially independent and to work for herself. She did not want to depend upon a prince or anyone else. The amount of agency shown by Nicolette or Mechanica is amazing. In addition to her brilliant, independent streak, I loved that she avoids a romance sort of because her friend, Caro, whom she meets in the market place, may potentially be interested in this guy, whom she also meets in the market place.
The side characters in Betsy Cornwell’s Mechanica are excellent too. There’s a mechanical horse who steals every single scene he’s in. Then there’s the half-fey servant who is in the book briefly but makes an impact. Further, we have the two people Nicolette meets at the market – Caro and Fin. I loved, loved, loved Caro’s character. She’s sweet and outgoing and she will accept charity from no one. She has a big huge family and lives at the palace. She’s actually a bit more interesting than Nicolette if I am being honest with you all. As for Fin, he serves as a bit of romantic interest and there are some things about him that are neat, but overall, he is not nearly as memorable as Caro.
Mechanica combines technology and magic for an interesting world. There’s some fairy lore that is different and new to me. For instance, Cornwell’s world has fairies who reproduce by just deciding they are going to have a baby and then wishing it into being. Also, the fey live in friend-family groups. Their society is different from human society. This leads to some distrust and resentment on behalf of the humans. What Cornwell does with this is provide fodder for discussion and thought. I mean, when the humans begin dying from that fairy disease, they turn against everything fey and close the ranks against outsiders. It’s an interesting look at xenophobia in a young adult fantasy setting.
So, I guess my slight disappointment with this book has to do with the expectations that I personally had for it. I was expecting more of a romance. I mean, I think that a woman can both have a romance AND be financially independent. This book did not entirely deliver. Sometimes I feel like books can get into that portrayal that career or love is a zero sum game and you can’t have both. I do not like this idea and so some of this book did not gel with me. As for the actual writing style though, the pacing and prose are wonderful. Overall, I would recommend this book with the caveat that if you came here looking for Prince Charming, it might be time to look in a different book.