Every fairytale is putty in the hands of a writer, being reshaped and stretched to his or her own desires. This imaginative Cinderella retelling has elements of steampunk, yet has some subtleties that most steampunk doesn't have. There's an insta-romance which ...dissolves, as all real insta-romances must do, a whole lot of work, a cover that reminds me of the longing and whimsy of The Nightmare Before Christmas (oh, that moon!)a bit of invention and an ingenious pair of glass slippers which make me believe in gears. At times a bit slow-paced, this remains a positive addition to the fairytale retelling oeuvre.
Summary: You know the story - a girl is orphaned, first losing mother, then father, and is left at the mercy of the Evil Stepmother who is single-mindedly ambitious for her daughters, with nothing left over for her husband's orphaned child. In this case, Nicolette is the daughter's name, and instead of being besmirched with cinders by way of a mocking a nickname, she's diminished to the single syllable of "Nic" at her father's funeral, then further besmirched with coal soot and oil, and is called Mecha-Nic-a. Being a smart girl, she actually takes the name and runs with it, holding to herself the memory of her unconventional inventor mother who was the main breadwinner in her household, with her love of creating wind-up insects, steam-powered household helpers, and animatronics enlivened with just a touch of fey magics. Nicolette uses her mother's workshop to make a few things to sell at the Market, in order to make money for her escape -- because she is going to leave her Stepmother's house, someday. She just refuses to leave in disorder, like a frightened child running away.
When the crown prince offers an Exhibition and a ball to celebrate coming of age, Nicolette decides to enter an invention into the exhibition. She has no clue what that might be, but having found her mother's notes and her workshop, she pokes around the now illegal fey magic to see what she can find. Caro and Fin, a pair of palace workers she meets at the Market, are instrumental in helping her get around her stepmother. Their friendship bolsters her into having the courage to move forward after a few setbacks - and they stick with her, despite what could be an uncomfortable relationship between Fin and Caro. The novel ends rather abruptly, with much more to discover, obviously indicating a sequel.
Peaks: Nicolette differs from the stereotypical Cinderella in that she is more than capable of saving herself. She just... doesn't think she can leave the house where her mother died, leave her workshop and the closets and cupboards that open for her hands only. While taking on the care of the house and only once taking actual abuse from her stepfamily, Nicolette, in staying, is making a deliberate decision - something which some readers might miss.
Also making a difference to the typical fairytale, there's no HEA with a prince. Well, there's not ONLY an HEA with a prince. Nicolette has a happily-ever-after with a prince and her best friend, and instead of this being a damaging love triangle, it... is what it is -- a friendship, a love, a family of sorts. While Nicolette doesn't live in breathless hope of it all changing and going her way in future, she's able to find comfort in that she still has both friends. There's not a lot of YA fiction that makes a point of underscoring the strengths of friendships between women and girls.
Valleys: While I found the novel had a lot of refreshing elements for a retelling of a VERY old tale, I found myself a bit disbelieving of some of the emotional elements. At times, the plot moves very slowly, and time is spent explaining to the reader emotional details instead of showing them so that they can be instantly taken in and comprehended. Nicolette's behavior toward her step family is completely believable - she is grieving and simply ends up doing what she's told for a long, long time -- and yet, I feel like the narrative would have had the ring of veracity if we'd seen this, instead of having it explained. Toward the end of the novel, Caro explains to Nicolette that Fin is dramatic - yet the only person we ever see gushing and oversharing is Caro. Still, the narrative makes a point of having Caro and Nicolette exchange glances about Fin, yet Fin's allegedly dramatic behavior seems to be tacked on, and not appearing organically in the story.
A minor frustration is with the way the novel ended -- there is a great deal yet more to know, and the mystery of the ashes is yet unsolved -- and while it's fine that the novel has a sequel, I wish that trilogies and whatnot were committed to telling a COMPLETE story. There's nothing as frustrating as reading something which just -- ends!
The fantasy elements in this novel are muted, yet we know the fey have blue-freckled skin. Despite this being a fantasy world, there seem to be no other colors included.
Conclusion: A world rich and strange, with more to come...!
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After 25 August, you can find MECHANICA by Betsy Cornwell at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!