Thursday, August 27, 2015

Review: Mechanica

By Betsy Cornwell
Published: August 25, 2015

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 turned her into a servant in her own home. 

But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn't want a fairy tale happy ending after all.

My review:

Nick's mother Margot was a talented inventor who infused her gadgets with Fey magic. When the queen becomes ill from a Fey disease and dies of too much Lovesbane, Fey magic is made illegal and her inventions are no longer in demand. After Margot dies of the same disease, Nick's father remarries a woman with two cruel daughters. Nick's stepmother has the same aversion to the Fey that her father has. Although Nick tries to befriend her new sisters, they repay her with meanness and things only get worse after Nick's father dies and the Steps force her to become their servant.

Nick has her mother's gift for invention and she secretly uses gadgets to help her clean the house and sew her stepsisters' many gowns. On her sixteenth birthday she receives a letter from her mother with instructions leading her to a secret workroom. Inside are some of her mother's inventions including a miniature horse named Jules who seems to have a life of his own. Nick begins studying her mother's designs and creating her own especially after she finds out about the upcoming technological exposition. The exposition could be her chance to get the notice of a sponsor who could help her launch her career and escape the Steps once and for all.

Nick is a smart and plucky heroine. She's had a hard life in the years since her mom died but she is strong and puts up with the Steps. When she finds the workshop and hears about the exposition she is determined to invent something amazing. To help make money for the supplies she needs she even sells beads and the knitting machines she makes at the local market. It is there that she meets Caro and Fin, her new friends who encourage her. 

I thought this was a creative retelling of Cinderella with a different take on the happy-ever-after part of the story. I applaud Nick's choice to find her own happiness rather than the traditional version of the story and how she makes it happen instead of waiting to be rescued by a fairy godmother and a prince. I also appreciated her realizations about the nature of love and family. 

I would have liked the book more if the secondary characters were better developed. While the traditional stepmother and stepsisters in Cinderella don't have much depth I would have appreciated it more if characters like Fin and Caro were explored in more detail especially their relationship with Nick and each other. It seemed to be more telling rather than showing so their friendship felt forced (for instance we get a 10 page letter from Caro about her desire to be best friends with Nick). The fey elements were not completely developed either. If this was the first book in a series then I would hope that the next book would explain things better and that we'd get a better sense of how her world works with regards to the Fey. We get some historic background in a flashback but not much else. A possible future war is mentioned but is just a footnote in the epilogue. Also the ending was rather anticlimactic after all that buildup. 

Overall I liked this book and kind of hope there will be a second book. Mechanica has an interesting premise and a likable protagonist but some minor flaws kept me from loving it as much as I thought I would. I think readers who like fairy tale retellings will enjoy this as long as they don't go into it expecting a traditional take on Cinderella. I would also suggest it to fans of novels like Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore and Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.

Note: I received an ARC for review purposes courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss


  1. Sounds like an intriguing story! It frustrates me when the secondary characters aren't fleshed out. Great review!

  2. This seems like a really fun retelling. I like that there's a different take on "happily ever after." I will have to add this to my TBR list. Great review, Christina!


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