Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell


Goodreads: Mechanica
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: August 25, 2015

Official Summary

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.


Mechanica puts a charming steampunk spin on the classic tale of “Cinderella.”  Nicolette Lampton feels trapped by her cruel stepmother until she discovers her mother’s hidden basement workshop and begins tinkering to make inventions of her own.  She hopes with hard work she’ll be able to buy herself a new life and maybe even become as skilled as her mother.  After all, there’s not just a royal ball coming up; there’s also an Exhibition!

Mechanica gives readers a “Cinderella” character who really knows what to do with her work ethic.  Instead of feeling downtrodden by her abusive family , she feels she’s simply biding her time until good things can come her way.  While I wish  the family dynamics would have been explored more–I think there’s a lot to say about abuse in many fairy tales that many authors simply overlook–I did admire Nicolette and her drive.

Besides the somewhat flat step-family, most of the other characters are similarly well-developed and reveal multiple facets of their personalities throughout the novel.  There’s also a (mechanical) animal companion, and I fall for those every time in books.  Sign me up for a cute horse with intelligence and unconditional love!

The official summary broadly hints how the end of the book will go, so I won’t consider a few more hints much of spoilers.  I’ve seen other readers imply it doesn’t go how they wanted, but I didn’t have an issue with it.  I also didn’t have a problem with the apparent insta-love earlier in the novel; Cornwell clearly indicates that it’s supposed to be read as infatuation.  She’s playing with fairy tale tropes, much the way Frozen does with the insta-love between Anna and Hans.  As for insta-friendship, I don’t find that hard to believe at all.  Half of being someone’s friend is deciding you want to be.

Overall, I just found Mechanica a really enjoyable read.  It will be  appreciated by anyone who adores retold fairy tales as a I do.
4 stars Briana

7 thoughts on “Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

  1. rantandraveaboutbooks says:

    It reminds me of Cinder with the Cinderella/mechanic thing happening. I just bought a handful of fairy tale retellings lately. I’m pretty excited to read them. Everywhere I turn anymore there’s another one about Snow White or Cinderella. I’ve seen a few with Alice in Wonderland, too.


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I thought of Cinder, too, and how mechanical/technological fairy tale retellings are increasingly. The books do come across as distinctly different. Cinder definitely has a whole epic fantasy plot going on, while Mechanica is really more focused on just being a version of Cinderella. It was pretty fun.


  2. Alicia @ A Kernel of Nonsense says:

    Loved the review! I’ve been hesitant to pick this one up because of I heard about the insta-love, but you’ve reassured me, viewing it as the author’s way of dealing with certain fairy tale tropes. The abuse exhibited by the stepmother in Cinderella stories is often left unexplored. I’d love to read a book by an author who recognizes this, but I think without it the stepfamily often comes across as one-dimensional.


  3. DoingDewey says:

    This sounds really cute! I was also struck by the similarity to Cinder, so I was glad to see in your comment that it had a distinctly different feel. A big part of the reason I like retellings is the opportunity to see an author do something creative and new, so I’d be disappointed if this didn’t provide that.


    • Briana says:

      Yes! I think a lot of readers immediately think of Cinder– which is only a problem if you wanted something like Cinder, and then get angry that this doesn’t fulfill your expectations. Which some readers have. :p But if you want something new, then you’ll probably like it!


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