ARC Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Posted August 8, 2015 by Debby in Book Reviews

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.

ARC Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy CornwellMechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Published by Clarion Books on August 25th, 2015
Genres: Fairy Tale Retelling, Fantasy, Steampunk, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
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.

2.5 Stars

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 »

Summing Up:

After the slow beginning, it seemed like Mechanica and I would get along well enough, with all the steampunk awesomeness and the magic and originality of the Faerie. Then… that romance. It ruined everything. I don’t know if it’s because I have certain expectations for fairy tale retellings, or if this book just went for tropes that (apparently) I can’t handle, but by the end of the book, I was wincing and scowling and deeply dissatisfied. A pity, because I would have loved to add this beautiful book cover to my shelves.

GIF it to me straight!

Recommended To:

I… don’t know. Nope. Don’t ask me.

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9 responses to “ARC Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

  1. I was a little sad that I was turned down for this one, but from what I have seen….small blessings. I read the spoiler, because I wanted your take on it. I’ve already read spoilers but they were vague at the most. Now I’m furious! Just….WHY? Why would you assassinate your characters in such a way??

    Yeah, I went from WANTING to On the fence to Not even on sale. Thank you for the great review. I’m so happy I read the spoiler tag.

    • Ha, right. It was so weird. I think she was trying so hard to do something different that it became a kind of gimmick that felt unnatural considering the characters’ natures. I… dunno. It’s just weird.

  2. MJ

    First of all it’s been awhile since I’ve been on here. But love the new layout. Anyway, glad I cancelled the preorder on this one. The ending sounds like one I would hate. I like aspects of it and THOUGHT it could’ve been pretty cool given some of the spoilers I’ve seen about it. But like Lyn said those spoilers were vague at best. Now that I have the entire picture….eh. Something about the whole scenario smells not needed sequel coming soon to me.

    • No, there won’t be a sequel. I think it really was just meant to be a vague open ending, as a contrast to all the cookie cutter happily ever afters. But turns out that doesn’t work for me!

  3. Noooo that spoiler is awful! UGH. That would make me so angry while reading. And instalove is such a fine line with fairy tales. Sometimes it can be believable in context and done well. Othertimes… not so much. What a bummer, this book sounded so great. And the cover is still beauteous.

    • IT WAS SO INFURIATING MORGAN. Like I could have liked the book otherwise – it wouldn’t be a favorite, but the steampunk inventions were so cute that I was enjoying it… but ugh. I really don’t think I can handle an OT3 situation, the more I think about it. I just can’t imagine that would ever work out without serious drama and jealousy. Like maybe a one-time thing. But not long-term. Nope.

    • Haha, it’s a new way to make romance completely cringeworthy. I… hope you can ignore some of that stuff and still like this book, but yeah, I dunno.