Warning: If you have not read “Mechanica” by Betsy Cornwell, do not read this review if you do not want spoilers. If you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book, however, feel free to read this!
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s for “Mechanica” by Betsy Cornwell! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“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.”
I really liked Nicolette as a protagonist. She tries to do the right thing, sticks up for herself, and she does her best to get out of living with her abusive stepsisters and stepmother by earning enough money for herself so she can eventually move out on her own. Her friendship with Caro was nice to read, and even better—there was no dastardly horrible love triangle to mess with anyone’s characters! I disliked when she got so mean to her stepsisters in the latter half of the book, however. I understand she was trying to retaliate against her sisters’ bullying, but literally hitting them in the face and laughing at them is just…mean. And wrong. Telling them off for their own wrongs would’ve been a better way to do this, especially since this is a retelling of Cinderella and the main characters is meant to be like the titular character in this case. The original Cinderellas that we know of (especially the Disney one, if one grew up on Disney) didn’t go and brashly hit people and laugh at them.
I loved the worldbuilding in this book as well, but I also wish that it incorporated itself more into the plot. It makes sense, but I just wish it had more reason to be present in the plotline of the whole story. Nicolette’s mother is half-Fae, yes, but that isn’t quite enough to really show how it’s relevant to the other characters. I heard there is a sequel to this book, and if I do get my hands on it I hope the worldbuilding for this book actually makes more relevance towards the overall plot and its characters.
I didn’t get a sense of any real romance in the book. I know there is a main romance with Nicolette in it, but they deliberately separate because being in a castle to Nicolette wouldn’t have given her the mobility she wanted, and it’s not really like marrying a prince is going to necessarily help, given the societal boundaries of the book’s world. If there was anything that was love-filled in the book, it was that instead of emphasizing on loving a prince who sweeps you off your feet, it’s more about loving yourself. Whether or not that prince is present, that doesn’t make you any less of the person you are and who you’re meant to be. I really loved that overall message in the book.
Plotwise, however, I think it could have used more excitement. The most exciting part was, to me, when Nicolette discovered the mechanical horse in her mother’s workshop at the beginning, as well as all of the flashbacks in the beginning. I think the second half of the book lagged more to me because it followed the ‘Cinderalla’-esque storyline with only a few changes (like the fact that there was no fairy godmother and that the mechanical horse in question made Nicolette’s dress, as well as the fact that Nicolette decided not to get married). Granted, I knew this second half was going to be either a hit-or-miss because there are a lot of other books out there that do fairytale retellings, especially of tales such as Cinderella, but I just wished there were more plot twists or something exciting involved.
Overall, I would rate this book 3.75 out of 5 stars for the strong protagonist and interesting worldbuilding.