Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is a steam powered Cinderella reimagining with lots of surprises

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is a steam powered Cinderella reimagining with lots of surprises

Mechanica took a lot of hits from reviewers that I usually agree with, so I was a little afraid to give it a go.  I was surprised to find that I really did like this book, and I was puzzled by so many negative responses to it.  Some said they loved the message but found it boring.  Others just wanted to complain that it sounded too much like Cinder (it’s nothing like Cinder).  I don’t know if we are about to see a fairytale retelling backlash soon, but even if you have read the ten other books that revisited Cinderella this year, I think you can still find a lot to delight you in Mechanica. There is a tiny metal horse that comes alive here, people! His name is Jules!  You just think you’ve read it all!

this book has changed publication dates (again), so it won’t actually hit shelves until Tuesday, the 25th of August.


Goodreads Summary

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 Thoughts

Mechanica is an enchanting fairy tale retelling that combines steampunk and fae magic and has the seed of the Cinderella story at its core.  While it starts out pretty predictably, patient readers will find it eventually veers in a different direction that is both empowering and reflective.  You’ve read this story before, and maybe even read it set in different times and places, but Mechanica deals with it in a way I haven’t seen before.  This book isn’t focused on going through the plot points and hitting all of the predictable moments you have probably been internalizing since childhood.  This book is more about the character, and about her ideas of love which have been shaped and molded by her circumstances. It is about the protagonist (and the reader) recognizing how love doesn’t have to follow all the conventions and ideas that society tells us are indicators of love.  In order to get that point across, this book had to veer away from the expected and idealized trappings of love that almost inherent in a Cinderella retelling. This results in a lot of bafflement for readers who can’t see why the pattern deviates.  Smart, thoughtful readers, though, will recognize the value in the changes.

My biggest complaint is that it does walk a fine line between YA and middle school readability.  The complexity of Nicolette’s internal struggle is engaging enough for an older reader, but at times, the external struggle feels too young.  I was annoyed when the narrative over explained things I had already inferred, and this happened a lot when the step-sisters were in a scene.  The start of the book isn’t as sophisticated as other fairy tale retellings that are floating around (probably because it is sticking so closely to the traditional source at that point).  When the narrative begins to move away from the expected plot, the story becomes more complex.

Essentially, I think this can be a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, and if you are at the more mature end of the reading spectrum, you need to stick it out because it definitely will surprise you.  I will add this to my high school classroom library because it does offer such an important message and I think the changes will be just controversial enough to prompt discussion and debate.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


About queenbook

When the final bell rings, I stash those messy piles of essays and analysis assignments in a desk drawer and I head home to a pile of good books. My kids and dog eat too many chicken nuggets and the house could be neater, but as long as I get my daily read, I guess we are doing all right. When I was twelve and fifteen and eighteen and twenty, I believed I needed to get out there and do those things I had just been reading about, which ended in disaster, tears, a tattoo that scares me every time I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror, and the realization that some of us are meant for action, and some of us are meant to critique the pace of action in a book. I read primarily YA fiction as I have a rather hulking classroom library and a hundred high school readers to engage daily. Nothing makes me happier than coming to school and finding an impatient teenager waiting by my door to turn in a book and get another one just like it. I adore a good zombie, a medieval princess, or girl assassin (I would like them all in one book if you are a writer looking for some inspiration). I add historical mystery to my wish list a year in advance, and you should get out of my way when the next Outlander book comes out. I have an embarrassing fondness for rock star books, but only if they don’t get too trashy and embarrass me. My favorite book of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. My book boyfriends include Gilbert Blythe, Alonzo Wilder, and Jamie Fraser. They are mine and you can’t have them.

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