ARC Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwel

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Mechanica
author: Betsy Cornwell
pages: 304
format: Kindle ARC
isbn/asin: 978-0547927718
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: For fans of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, or Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.  People who love beautiful prose.

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.

in short

I can say without reservation or qualification that Mechanica is an absolute dream, the spiritual successor to Ella Enchanted that we've all been waiting for.  You'll see it sardonically compared to Cinder on Goodreads.  Yes, both are Cinderella retellings.  Yes, both young women are skilled with machines.  The similarities end there, except that they're both damn good books.  Mechanica is the story of Nicolette, a lonely girl oppressed by her stepmother's cruelty and her kingdom's embargo on all things magical.  One day, a lost letter leads her to her mother's workshop, where she made her famous mechanical wonders before dying of a magic-borne disease.  Her love of machinery rekindled, Nicolette soon makes a secret name for herself by inventing clever machines and beautiful baubles.  Her inventions could buy her freedom--but in the way are her vicious stepsiblings and a handsome prince she never anticipated.  Written in a gorgeous storyteller's prose, Mechanica is a tale of hope, self-reliance, and friendship that at once applauds, modernizes, and subverts the cherished tale of Cinderella.  

in depth

it's a faithful, yet innovative cinderella retelling
Like Ella Enchanted (to which I'll try not to compare it too often), Mechanica keeps the bones of the Cinderella story intact.  You have a girl reduced to a servant in her own house by a cruel stepmother and stepsisters.   You have a handsome prince who finds himself besotted with our lovely heroine.  You have a bit of magic, a great deal of finery, and a midnight ball.  I could almost see Cornwell smiling to herself when I read some of her cheeky references:  mechanical insect helpers instead of birds, a coal-powered horse-drawn carriage, and of course hand-blown glass slippers.  Even Nicolette's name recalls the story's French origins.  It has all the trappings of a fairy tale that conjure that magical, nostalgic quality for the reader.  

embedded in a unique fantasy. 
It's the perfect backdrop to spin a lovingly altered tale.  In this world, magic is known but feared.  Fairy tricks were once prized, but their power began to scare the human rulers.  An epidemic of a magical disease prompted a final embargo on magic.  Nicolette's mother, who once used magic to animate her clever mechanical creatures, died of the disease when her magic-loathing husband refused to deliver the magical cure.  The tension between humans and magic is ever-present, creating a more worldly drama than your average Cinderella.  It also creates the perfect situation for Nicolette:  with magic banned, the crown hopes to hold an exhibition of human engineering to prove that it does not rely on magic.  The winner will receive a royal commission, one that could free Nicolette from her stepmonsters forever. 

charmingly written and tightly plotted, 
Nicolette's journey is giddy and delightful.  Cornwell has a mastery of language that really shows her MFA roots.  It's pretty without being pretentious.  It evokes the antiquated style of a Grimm's fairy tale and borrows some olden turns of phrase, but is much richer in description and more evocative than Jacob or Will ever were.  And while her stepcharacters are a little type-y, the rest feel perfectly real.  Particularly Nicolette.  She's clever, lively, and spirited, impossible not to love but certainly not saccharine.  She's also wicked smart.  She devises a system to do her chores using her mother's remaining mechanical creatures, befriends a tiny metal horse called Jules who is ethereally smart and ridiculously adorable, and begins selling her inventions at market.  Oh, how I want my own Jules!  

it celebrates love and friendship
At market, Nicolette meets Caro, a girl who loves too fiercely and quickly (and is easy for a reader to love), and Finn, a swoony boy driven by wild passions.  As they help Nicolette to work on her projects secretly, the three of them form a friendship built on mutual care, respect, and understanding.  Funny how that works, huh?  At this point, you probably think you know what happens.  You'll be right about some things.  Nicolette develops an affection for Finn, whose snarky adorable banter seems to suggest an equal affection.  There is a ball, which Nicolette attends against her stepmother's wishes, where Nicolette captures the eye of a prince.  

while also lauding independence.
But to tell you how clever the story is would be spoiling it.  What I can say is that Cornwell handles the fairy tale tropes so innovatively.  She builds up your expectations in one direction, only to dash them and provide another avenue, only to surprise you yet again.  She gives Nicolette some sense, too.  Her concern for Caro is just as strong as her love for Finn, and she even hesitates to call it "love"--because she knows that she doesn't know him well and refuses to let him distract her from her dreams.  The thread through the story is cooperation, not codependency.  In the end, Cornwell explores the nature of love, friendship, and their intersection, and provides a happy ending that doesn't depend on fairy godmothers.  

in a sentence

Mechanica is a beautifully written fairy tale that mixes the classic and modern into one romantic, charming story of perseverance and self-discovery.        


will i read this author again?  Yes!  I want more things right now!  
will i continue the series?  No series, although I wouldn't mind one.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected by stated opinions.

Want a copy of Mechanica for your very own?  Check back tomorrow for a pre-order giveaway!  


  1. AHH I AM SO EXCITED FOR THIS BOOK!! I confess I was a little worried when I first heard about it because it does sound uber similar to Cinder. BUT. Omg 5-star worthy?! And I love machines and retellings so basically this book = I need in my life. :D I LOVED THE REVIEW THANK YOU FOR CONVINCING ME.

    1. YAY I CONVINCED SOMEONE! It does seem similar to Cinder from a purely superficial view, but they're TOTALLY DIFFERENT STORIES. And I do not give my 5 stars away lightly. YAY THANKS!

  2. This is the strongest review I've seen for this novel since they started being published, and that's a great thing, it make a nice change. I confess to still being a tad worried about it sounding a lot like Cinder (as it was a favourite in 2014) but still, this sounds really good, and I can't wait to see if I can ever try it. GREAT REVIEW C.J :)

    1. I think a lot of people are, but they're honestly SUCH different stories. I hope you get to read it! Thank you!

  3. I loved Ella Enchanted so definitely picking this one up, although not a series it can be nice to have a stand alone book :D

    1. Yay! Series can be so exhausting. I love a good standalone.

  4. I have really been looking forward to this book - I think it looks awesome. And honestly, I didn't care if it sounded like Cinder, because it IS a fairytale retelling with machines (which is always good), and I'm always interested to see how two people handle a similar premise (that's the fun of retellings, after all). Anyhow, awesome review, and I'm headed over to enter your giveaway :)

    1. It's SO good to hear someone say that! There was so much snark on Goodreads when it was first posted. God forbid two books have some superficial similarities! Yay, thanks so much for reading! [[I do love the idea of people retelling the same thing. It's always so delightfully different!]]

  5. The more reviews I read the this book, the more convinced I am that I must read it! Love the sound of the feminist and slightly steampunk spin on fairy tales. I love retellings! Who cares if it's a bit similar to Cinder, as long as both books are awesome I am a-okay with that.