Monday, 21 September 2015

Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Publication Date: August 25th 2015
Publisher: Clarion Books
Length: 304 pages

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 was very excited to get stuck into this one, and whilst I did really enjoy this fresh take on the Cinderella story (strong independent woman!) there were a few problems that stopped it being the favourite I had been hoping it would turn into.

Nick is a fantastic protagonist. I did have a couple of issues with her and the romance which I will discuss in a moment, but first I want to talk about what I loved. She’s intelligent, she’s feisty and determined, she’s incredibly clever and talented. And the best part? Unlike the original story where she has to rely on her fairy godmother and the Prince to rescue her from her life of drudgery, in ‘Mechanica’ she rescues herself. Yes she has friends and support, but she pulls herself up, she rolls up her sleeves and gets stuff done and turns her own situation around which I really loved.

I loved the steampunk elements – it’s not traditional full steampunk, and anyone worrying that it will be too similar to ‘Cinder’ your fears are unfounded, these are two very different books. The mechanical inventions and magic are worked in beautifully and I loved seeing Nick at work and the little titbits we’re shown of her relationship with her mother. They’re both incredible inventors and I thought that was a truly gorgeous new twist – particularly when we see the attitude towards women and their inventions in this world. I loved how they subvert expectations to create these stunning pieces and the transition from Nick’s mother having to pretend that her inventions are made by her husband, to Nick standing proud beside her inventions. It’s definitely a female empowerment story, and it’s done brilliantly.

However, one of my biggest issues was the romance. Nick meets Fin twice, maybe three times, and yeah ok he’s ridiculously hot and he’s actually been nice to her which at this point in her life is a rarity – crush away dear girl, I completely understand. But then she stars having imaginary conversations with him. She freely admits that she spends most of her time imagining conversations and situations and builds up this entire person in her head that she later says she doesn’t think she could have survived without. This is up there with insta-love for me – a love built up out of nothing. Of imaginings. It really didn’t work for me and I found any of their interactions following that to be really uncomfortable as a result.

The romance and relationships as a whole are handled quite poorly, so if you’re after the traditional happily ever after you’ll be sorely disappointed. Similarly whilst some elements of the friendships worked really well, there were other parts that really didn’t and left me feeling frustrated by various actions and conversations. The pacing is also a little off so the story lags quite terribly in several places, but the imagination that infuses it definitely helps to pick up the slack and kept me interested.

So whilst I loved a lot of this fresh reinvention of Cinderella, there were enough niggles and problems for it not to quite hit favourite status. However I really recommend picking it up, if only for the magical inventions and the empowered self sufficient Cinderella.

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