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.
I have always loved fairytale retellings – the possibilities with them are endless. The original story of Cinderella is about her rising from poverty when she meets her Prince Charming, a story about kindness and strength, and magic, through the fairy godmother. Cornwell’s retelling, however, left out the godmother, and with good cause too – Nicolette is a hard-working woman, an engineer nicknamed ‘Mechanica’ by her step sisters. Her story is of perseverance; she works hard to one day be free of her drudgery, to be able to buy back her house. Despite the many tauntings and ill treatment she has to endure, she remains a kind girl, who still believes in love. So, when she meets Fin and Caro, she can’t help but love both of them with all her heart. They are the first people in a long time to love her back, the thing she yearned for from her step family.
The original story’s ball has been modified to include an expo too, where talented engineers all over the kingdom can showcase their wares. Nicolette wants to participate, too, for her clockwork creations mixed with magic, are the one thing that connects her to her mother. So, when she loses the friend her mother made, she rebuilds it again. There is a lot of mythology in the background, which is hinted at, but not fully covered in this book. Only that there is a Faerie country, but fae are treated badly in her kingdom. The politics in the book suggests that there is a nefarious character lurking somewhere, but it doesn’t directly affect Nicolette. Which is where I come to the main problem with the book – there is no real villain. Sure, there is the step mother, but when Nick already is no longer afraid of her, it takes out the danger of the situation. As a story of growth of a character, it is great; there is also a nice twist to the romance, and questions about the love we yearn for. But is there action – um, no; this makes the pace suffer at times since the only thing carrying the story is her goal of displaying her creation at the expo.
I think, in conclusion, it was a good take on the Cinderella fairytale, and definitely offered something different. The novelty of the storyline was refreshing, but not altogether surprising. (I had already guessed who the prince was, and have a hunch about the Ashes too). The next book, if there is any, hopefully will shed some more light on the Faeire and Human politics.
Received a free galley from Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group) via Netgalley; this does not influence my opinions or review.