Author: Betsy Cornwell
Released: August 25, 2015
Favorite quote: “My story-loving heart thrilled at the idea, and I felt as if I’d stepped into one of the books I’d read in childhood. I stood still, taking in the moldering platforms around me, filled with a happiness that was almost like worship.”
While browsing through the young adult section in Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon this last summer, my fiancé found Mechanica. He picked it up and pretty much shoved it into my arms (along with the other books that I was buying) because Cinderella is his favorite Disney princess and we’re both in love with Steampunk anything/everything.
I was under the impression that the novel was a stand alone and not part of a series; I was wrong. The next in the series, Venturess, will be released in summer of 2017. That has to be one of the first things that I say in this reaction because it will entirely change how you read that book. When the novel ended how it did (with loose ends galore), I was so upset with the author; it only took a few minutes for me to have the sense to check if there would be a sequel in the future. That being said, read it with the intention of starting a new series, not of reading a stand alone as I had.
The beginning was extremely slow. It was basically background to set up the actual start of the quintessential Cinderella story that we’re all so accustomed to. Even though the introduction lacked the pace that I would have wanted, I understand the importance of Cornwell’s description of Nicolette Lampton’s childhood with her parents before their early deaths. After the story resumed with Nicolette at the age of 16, it was much easier to read without stopping.
Unlike most Cinderella retellings, however, the protagonist’s goal is not love but success. It’s a brilliant twist to the classic fairy tale that we all know and love. So the question is what happens when the potential for both love and success conflict? That isn’t the only change to the story, however: friendships play a more vital role than the promise of love in this version of Cinderella.
The not-so-subtle changes reflect the modern ideals of female youth beautifully, which is what I look for in retellings of my favorite stories. We’re too used to reading about the girl who needs saving or the girl who devotes her whole to love; Cornwell brings on a heroine who fights for her own future.
The steampunk element to the novel wasn’t as enveloping as I’d thought, but I foresee it being much more prevalent in the next novel. Of course, the inventions and machines that Nicolette works with are what do breathe life into the steampunk Victorian period that Cornwell creates.
While my expectations for a mechanical world fell slightly short, it was compensated by the world of magic and Fae that lives alongside the “magic-less” country where Nicolette resides. That was a definite surprise for me since I started reading the novel without having much knowledge of the story beforehand. Though Fae and magic are commonplace in young adult literature, Mechanica employs the ideas in her story similarly to Tina Connolly’s Ironskin trilogy (Ironskin, Copperhead, Silverblind). Because this is one of my favorite series, it was hard not to love the magic that was strangely reminiscent of that sci-fi trilogy. No, the stories are not the same at all; Mechanica just really reminded me of it in the way that the Fae were portrayed.
I do recommend the book. That wasn’t my first opinion of the novel, actually, but after really thinking through the story and discussing what I liked/didn’t like about it with myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you like fairy tale retellings, magic, and steampunk, this is a book that you should definitely give a shot.