I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Published by Clarion Books on August 25th, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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 am a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, steampunk, and beautiful book covers, so as soon as Mechanica appeared on my radar, I simply had to have it. And the results are… mixed. We had a slow start, some shining moments, and then a very wince-worthy ending.
So Mechanica retells Cinderella in a way that will be pretty familiar to you. A lot of the elements of the Disney version are the same, but the steampunk twist definitely helps to add some originality. The book starts off with some long flashbacks and exposition to reveal Nicolette (Cinderella)’s backstory and reveal the twists on the world. Nicolette lives in a realm ruled by a king which is in rough political waters with a neighboring realm of Faeries. Yes. Faeries. There’s magic and wonders, but these have already been outlawed and the country is trying to push for technological innovations to make up for them.
Nicolette is in fact an inventor herself – her mother having taught her much of what she knows when she was just a small child. There’s definitely something to respect there. Nicolette is no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued from her cruel Stepmother and Stepsisters. When she rediscovers her mother’s workshop, she starts building things, selling them through the market, and planning to get out of there on her own strengths and earnings, eventually buying back her family’s manor. And the inventions themselves reek of everything I love most about steampunk novels – the most awesome being her clockwork horse, Jules, who is just twenty different kinds of adorable and without a doubt the best character of the book.
So halfway through the novel, we were doing pretty well, and though I wasn’t fully enthralled or impressed by the book, I was enjoying it. But then the romance appeared and we started going down a slippery slope. Fin is charming, sure. At first I thought they were pretty cute together, but Nicolette got super attached to him in no time at all. And I tried to rationalize this as a realistic reaction from someone who has hardly experienced kindness and love in her life, but when she starts thinking about Fin every other page and then berating herself for thinking of him, but then continuing to do it anyway… I grew a touch frustrated. She even – no shit – imagines conversations between them, and literally says those imagined conversations make her fall in love with him even more. They’ve only met 3 times by the time she admits she has serious feelings for him. I maybe don’t want to label it as straight-up instalove, but it’s pretty darn close. (Arguably this comes with the territory in fairy tale retellings, but I do feel it can be done better.)
The ending, however, made my opinion of this book sink and the rating plunge. Now, Cornwell can be given points for originality and guts, because she throws out the Disney-like happily ever after ending and does something unprecedented. But it didn’t sit well with me because the execution was so blah. This is all, obviously, for spoilery reasons. View Spoiler »So at the end, Fin – revealed to be the Heir to the surprise of exactly no one – proposes to Nicolette, who is obviously infatuated with him (as she has been telling you for at least the last 100 pages). But in that same scene, Fin and Nicolette’s friend, Caro, appears and Nicolette realizes Fin is actually in love with her. She runs away and turns down his proposal, even though Fin says he does have *some* feelings for her, and aside from Caro it’s the only other time he’s felt that way. Caro doesn’t want to be with him because she feels they would be better off as friends. And the ending is a vague OT3-like open ending where the possibility exists for any of them to pair up at any moment in the future.
In theory I would be all for OT3s. In fact, I have at times wished that love triangles would resolve that way for a change. But this one doesn’t sit right with me. Nicolette is so deeply in love with Fin that I can’t even believe that she’d want to be friends with Fin OR Caro after their feelings come to light. And I’m FURIOUS at Fin for proposing to Nicolette when he’s known his whole life that he’s in love with Caro. I would honestly PUNCH THAT GUY IN THE FACE. I’m disgusted at him. Especially with the epilogue when it seems like he’s flirting with both of them. I would be so uncomfortable with that, I can’t even. And Nicolette said on multiple occasions that she saw Caro as a sister – making this even more difficult to swallow for me. In retrospect, maybe OT3s just aren’t my thing. « Hide Spoiler