Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Expected publication: August 2015 by Clarion Books
Amazon (end of August)
Barnes & Noble (end of August)
Book Depository (beginning of August)
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. (Goodreads)
This book was unexpected for many reasons. #1 I received this from the publisher unannounced. #2 My immediate reaction from reading the back was it sounded like Cinder. #3 The cover reminded me of The Princess and the Frog. Now let all of that go, as I did when I pretty much immediately picked this up and dove right in. I will also have a video review posted at the beginning of August, so look for that here.
Right from the beginning this story had me hooked. The protagonist Nicolette receives a letter from her dead mother instructing her to find a hidden key which then leads her to her mother’s workroom. Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? Nicolette finds the key and reaches the hidden workshop and the story takes off from there. This is a steampunk version of Cinderella. So the plot line is very similar to the classic Cinderella that we’re all used to. Her mother dies, her father remarries and then he does and she is left with an awful step mother and two step sisters. They feel above Nicolette and essentially she becomes their maid. There’s a royal ball and there’s a prince and all the fun stuff you would imagine, but there’s so much more. In this story faeries/fey live along side regular people and they have magic, magical potions, and oddities. Unfortunately King Corsin put a quarantine on anyone or anything fey after an assassination on an Heir, so the magic is outlawed and strictly forbidden. Take doesn’t stop Nicolette from reading through her mother’s blueprints and journals and inventing gadgets of her own.
With a royal ball and a technological exposition on the horizon Nicolette plans to use this opportunity to escape her bonds. She continues to wait on her step sisters, clean the house, run errands, and still find time to sneak away and work in the cellar with Jules, a tiny magical clockwork horse. Jules easily became her companion and friend and discovering him in the secret workshop. She also encounters and befriends Caro and Fin from the market. Caro and Fin equally become mysterious and intriguing and their development was spot on. There are some twists and turns throughout the story, but Nicolette continues pushing forward.
There were so many things I loved about this story: the various letters written in different font making it more believable for the reader that they came from different individuals, the inventions, the steam punk elements, Jules, the characters development, the writing style, the simple yet powerful phrases Cornwell uses, the family dynamics, the social justice themes, etc. I could go on. However, I knew there was going to be issues as I passed the half way mark and I was still sensing build up. Sadly this story never climaxed for me and although I was prepared for “but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending” I was shocked as to what took place! The ending really rubbed me the wrong way and not because of Nicolette’s choice…..
There is an epilogue was I suppose I appreciated, but that ending really spoiled it for me. As I said in my video review there were some things still left unanswered. Maybe there is going to be another book? If not, there should be. A prequel would be lovely! I still really enjoyed this book and rated it 3.5 – 4 stars. Thanks again to the author and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for sending this lovely story to me in exchange for my honest review.