Mechanica: Review

August 20, 2015 2.5 star books, 2015, fairy tales, fantasy, Kim 23 ★★½

Mechanica: ReviewMechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Published by Clarion Books, Houghton Mifflin Company on August 25, 2015
Genres: fairy tale
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

There is something so frustrating about a story that is so close to being satisfactory but doesn’t quite make it. Mechanica is a perfectly serviceable retelling, I imagine, but doesn’t have the emotional substance to make an impact. When I read a book I want to be swept away to another world, brought far from my own experiences, and caught up in the emotions of the characters. I don’t want “serviceable.”

Now, I haven’t read Cinder, but from what I could tell this really isn’t very similar. Whereas Cinder is a futuristic dystopian-ish (I think?), Mechanica has much more of a traditional fairy tale feel. Think: 18th century but with magic, fae, and some adorable steampunk creatures. Also, that book has a significant focus on the romance aspect of the story. This one…doesn’t (but more on that later).

I actually really enjoyed the first 20% or so of the book in which Nicolette relates to the reader the story of how she came to be a servant in her own parent’s home. Nicolette’s education in mechanical tinkering is interesting and the loss of her parents appropriately emotional. Most intriguing, though, was the foundation of a social justice story laid in the beginning. Fae and humans live alongside each other in this world, and used to live together, before the queen died from accidental overdose on a Fae remedy. Fae, magic, and all fae-related objects have been banished from the kingdom ever since. Families are broken up and divided. The Fae are systemically oppressed. And yet for all that it doesn’t ever really come to anything. Cornwell doesn’t do anything with this aspect of the story after the basic facts have been relayed. There aren’t any main characters who are Fae and there is no resolution to their oppression. Though View Spoiler »

The book has good intentions, and it even delivers on some of them, but the story is so very boring that it’s hard to care. The writing style is actually quite charming and I enjoyed Nicolette and found her believable and relatable. It’s just that nothing happens for the majority of the book. For most of the novel Nicolette is in her workshop tinkering away on various projects (creating mechanical sewing machines, sewing dresses for the stepsisters, etc) and relating back to the reader any action that happens via her memories. It’s all tell, no show and it’s a very insular reading experience. We’re never really in the moment with her. It’s hard to emotionally connect. Time would pass and it would be mentioned as, “My blossoming friendships with Caro and Fin made me happier than I’d ever been.”  But the reader wouldn’t see that blossoming themselves.

Now, Caro and Fin, the kindly merchants who help her sell her mechanical creations at market. It’s all very convenient but I can handwave that away when the story is interesting and relationships of substance are formed. It’s strange, I have never seen such a thing before, but this book has a case of insta-friendship. Nicolette meets Caro and Caro instantly adores her and writes her a 12 page letter the day they meet about how much she wants to be Nicolette’s friend. Nicolette herself does think this is all a bit odd, at least, but sort of just moves along and accepts the friendship. And Caro is perfectly nice and a genuine friend! It was just odd, especially combined with the fact that it’s all tell and no show. We don’t ever really see their friendship or understand why Caro was so instantly smitten.

And in turn Nicolette is instantly smitten with Fin. Quickly crushing on a cute boy is something I can forgive Nicolette for. I think it’s perfectly realistic 16 year old girl behavior. She does even admonish herself for so quickly crushing on someone she’s met twice and that in the same day. What I can’t get past is why I was ever supposed to care or feel attached. We don’t spend enough time with Fin to understand why Nicolette is crushing on him. We’re just told that she is. Honestly, I thought Nicolette and Caro had more chemistry! I would’ve been happy if they ran off together and in a story of beautiful lady love but sadly this was not to be.

There are things to admire here. The “ball” in this version is an Exposition where Nicolette plans to show off her creations and gain patronage. The goal isn’t romance with the prince, it’s freedom and independence from the “Steps” wrought by Nicolette’s own hard work. And there is an excellent trope subversion on the fairytale ending. In fact, the ending very nearly bumped this one up to a three: View Spoiler »

At one point we are read the entirety of the prince’s name (it’s a super long royal one, you know how they go) and Dougray is on the list. I can only think this is a reference to Dougray Scott and Ever After and it delights me. It was at this point that I realized this was the single most delightful thing about this book for me. Yeah, that’s not a good sign.

Sadly, Mechanica just didn’t live up to the promise of its potential. Lackluster plot, telling not showing, and completely irrational and/or convenient character choices combined to make this one all about pretty writing with no emotional backbone to support it.
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


kim teal







23 Responses to “Mechanica: Review”

  1. Carina Olsen

    Gorgeous review Kim :D I’m glad you sort of liked this book. But aw, so sorry that it was kind of sucky, lol :) But uuuugh. What you say about the romance.. and then the ending o.O I could never read this book, lol :D I need romance. I need a romance happy ending. How mean of this book :) It looks so gorgeous. Sigh. Oh, well. I never did want to read it anyway ;p and now I won’t. Aaaanyway. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about it sweet girl :D
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Review: The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

  2. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    I was rather upset about the lack of build up and follow up on the social issues and the Fae, and how we’re left about the war in the end?
    But the book had a very much old style fairy tale feel to it, because with a more or less original tale of Cinderella we are give broad strokes of the world, but it very much focuses on the day to day, the chores, the ball and how the prince wants to marry a girl he dances with for a few hours… So, it felt like an old style fairy tale with a different and quite welcome sort of ending, if not a retelling with a different sort of sustance.

    I did adore the clockwork and mechanical animals and all her tinkering and working!
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…September is for Sequels Challenge by Lisa Loves Literature!!

  3. Rashika

    I am cracking up at the insta-friendship bit. I cannot believe Caro wrote her a 12 page letter RIGHT AFTER THEY MET. That is more than a little odd and would probably not have the same affect on me that it did on the MC.

    I am sorry the book didn’t live up to it’s promise :(

    Lovely review, Kim!! :)
    Rashika recently posted…ARC Review: Every Word by Ellie Marney

  4. A Canadian Girl

    I haven’t read this one but its synopsis kind of made me think of Cinder. Judging from your review, I’ll be sticking to Meyer’s writing and passing on this one. It’s too bad this was so disappointing because I love retellings.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Blogoversary Giveaway

  5. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I agree with you on the relationships in this book. And with the spoiler about the ending – I applaud the effort, but I just kind of felt like the whole thing was thrown in there to be a sort of statement and I didn’t really get why ANY of the characters reacted the way they did. (With the possible exception of Nicolette. Yeah, she obviously made the right choice.)

    • Kim

      Yes. Nicolette’s actions were totally understandable and reasonable. Fin and Caro’s, however, were not. The characters just behaved this way to fit into the ending the author wanted by way of making a statement. The statement (which I admire) just falls flat when the characters behave completely nonsensically. No real human would behave that way! None! This is not how love and hearts and brains work.
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

  6. Nikki

    This makes me sad. I love books that have steampunk elements in it and it sounds like this one had so much potential that it didn’t live up to.

    • Kim

      It really is so frustrating when you can see all the ways a book COULD have been great but it just couldn’t quite get there. Sigh.
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

  7. jen7waters

    I totally agree with you especially the bit about the romance, it’s so weird how both Fin and Caro are so chill about loving each other, even when Fin wants to marry this other girl he just met and happens to be friends with Caro too. Honestly at some point I thought they were going to end up all together, the 3 of them.
    I think the author had this idea of the heroine not marrying the prince in the end, which is great, but for me the execution was a failure.

    • Kim

      I mean, I don’t know about you…but I have never been and would never be “chill” about someone I was in love with being like, “Yeah we’re in love but let’s not be together for no good reason.” So weird! I get what the author was going for ( i.e.”I’m a strong, independent woman.”) but it just wasn’t executed particularly well. I would’ve been THRILLED if the three of them ended up together. Honestly. Alas…
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

  8. Alexa S.

    It’s so unfortunate that Mechanica wound up being such a disappointment! It had a fairly interesting premise, and I was mildly curious but waiting to see what people who share my tastes (like you!) would think of it. I like that it’s a new spin on the actual fairy tale, but I really can’t stand stories with too much tell, and not enough show.
    Alexa S. recently posted…Legacy of Kings – Eleanor Herman

    • Kim

      I don’t think this will be an Alexa book I am sad to say. It’s just so boring. So much “I did this and we did that” but you don’t ever get to see what “this” and “that” are! Frustrating. And no swoony romance to keep us entertained. :p There are certainly aspects of this story to admire and like, but they can’t make up for the lackluster execution.
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

  9. Vane J.

    This is too bad. I wanted this book to be really good. the concept sounded amazing and it sounded like it had the potential of being feminist, so it’s sad to see the writing and not-so-realistic characters. Great review, though.
    Vane J. recently posted…Review: 21 Stolen Kisses

    • Kim

      Yes, it could’ve been feminist fiction done right! And, really, there’s nothing in the feminist messaging of the book that is off. It’s just the execution of the relationships that leaves much to be desired. I can’t get all triumphant about the “girl power” in a book that never fleshed out their friendship, you know? Such a shame!
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

    • Kim

      I know. Literally nothing happens after the exposition in the beginning. Nicolette just sits in her workshop tinkering and daydreaming about Fin. The vast majority of interactions they have take place entirely in her head. It doesn’t make way for any emotional resonance at the ending. It had a lot of promise. Too bad it didn’t live up to it!
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review

  10. Brittany

    Yes, I agree with your review completely. Like you, I really enjoyed the beginning of the book and it was clear there was a lot of potential there. I was really disappointed with the lack of satisfaction in the actual story. Even though it is nice that Mechanica [spoiler]didn’t marry Prince Charming knowing he didn’t have real feelings for her[/spoiler], somehow I didn’t feel that “Yes, you go girl!” I felt cheated.

    • Kim

      Right? The beginning had so much promise! There was emotional fulfillment and depth! Interesting world building and important social justice themes! And then it just…became a story about Nicolette tinkering in her workshop and daydreaming about Fin. Basically nothing happens. A whole book of nothing. How! And yes, the ending didn’t have the power it could have. It was simple and Caro was WAY too fine with how things went down for someone who was in in love with Fin. Such a disappointment!
      Kim recently posted…Mechanica: Review