Mechanica was written by Betsy Cornwell and is due for release later this month. It is a steampunk take on the story of Cinderella and contains a mixture of science-fiction and fantasy themes. The novel is a stand-alone story and so you do not need to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Following the death of her father, Nicolette Lampton’s life is utterly turned upside down. Overnight, her Stepmother fires her only friend – the household’s fae butler Mr. Candery – and announces that the ten year old will be taking over all of his duties. Quickly learning not to rebel, Nicolette – called Nick by her Stepsisters – settles into her new life as a slave and loses all hope that her story will ever have a happy ending.

On the night of her sixteenth birthday, a note is pushed under her bedroom door. It hints as to the location of her mother’s workshop – a place that Nick believed to have long since been destroyed – and soon Nick is able to resume her mother’s tinkering. With the help of her mother’s last machines, including a small army of insects and an intelligent miniature horse named Jules, Nick quickly devises ways to make her chores easier.

When the royal family announces a ball and cultural exposition in honour of the Heir’s coming-of-age, Nick knows that she has to somehow be there. The exposition is her one chance to get her work noticed and make enough money to buy back her home. However, the path to self-sufficiency is littered with obstacles. How will she get the materials that she needs and construct her entry without her cruel Stepmother noticing?

The last few novels that I’ve reviewed for this blog have been a bit underwhelming, so it made a nice change to pick up a book and find that I genuinely couldn’t put it down. While this was partially due to the style of the story (I’m a sucker for both faeries and steampunk), the book was just so phenomenally well written. The quality of the novel was simply excellent, smooth and fast flowing with no noticeable grammatical errors or typos. While the story did not feel as though it was particularly aimed at younger readers, its clear and straightforward prose makes it easily accessible to anyone aged twelve and up.

While everybody knows the story of Cinderella, Cornwell really did take this story and make it her own. The tale is set across the backdrop of a world at the brink of war. The mistreatment of faeries at the hands of humans (as well as reported instances of faeries assassinating human royalty) are always in the background of the story. The opening few chapters, in which Nick details the events that led up to her enslavement, are probably my favourite part of the novel. Although Nick is too young to fully understand what is going on around her, the conversations that she overhears between her parents and Mr. Candery help set the scene to the reader. Her father’s increasingly racist opinions about the faeries are clearly representative of the populous at large – climaxing with the exile of the faeries and a complete ban on their trade goods. The fact that he does not change his views, even when the only thing that will save his wife’s life is faerie medicine, further hammers this point home.

While the political tension adds a unique depth to the plot, my one disappointment with the story was that it wasn’t more developed. There is this huge world lying beneath the surface of Mechanica that is only briefly touched upon and yet it has so much potential. What we see of Cornwell’s fae is irresistible. Their black market is seeped with magic (not all of which is good, though we never really discover what the Ashes are) and the little that we learn about their lifestyle and beliefs is really interesting. I don’t know if she intends to write a sequel but this novel is clearly crying for one.

However, the plot of the novel is more focused on Nick’s attempts to be recognised as an independent woman. While the base elements of the story will certainly be familiar to most readers – the stepmother, the wicked stepsisters, the glass slipper – I love how Cornwell adapted these aspects to better fit her world. Her faerie godmother is a mechanical horse animated by forbidden magic, the slipper is a technological marvel of her own creation and she has to leave the ball by midnight purely due to the limitations of her machines. The steampunk elements of the story integrate really well too, never feeling tacked on in the way that they did in The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom.

The secondary cast varied a little in quality. The Stepmother and Ugly Sisters were pretty standard villains and therefore lacked in any kind of development but Nick’s friends and allies were all wonderful creations. Caro and Fin both had a lot of development throughout the story. Although some of the twists concerning them were a bit obvious, they were still wonderfully likable characters. Jules was also a magnificent automaton. I never realised that I could get so attached to a mechanical horse! Yet this was not the absolute best thing about the story. The best thing was the portrayal of Nick herself.

Nick is the very definition of a strong heroine. Although life has handed her lemons, she works hard to turn them into a successful soft drink industry. That’s the important thing. She works hard. Nothing is handed to Nick on a platter. Everything that she succeeds in, she gains because of her own hard work and sacrifice. The feminist message in this novel was incredibly strong and I felt that it made the protagonist a great role model for girls everywhere. Nick is strong willed and determined to fulfil her goal of independence. She doesn’t want to run away from her problems as it feels like a defeat. She is determined that when she leaves her Stepmother, it will be with her head held high because she has made something of herself.

Cornwell manages to balance out Nick’s character very well with strengths and weaknesses and so she feels like a real person. Although she is career driven, she is still not immune to the opposite sex and struggles with her feelings towards Fin when they start to conflict with her goals. Her attitudes towards her step-family also slowly evolve throughout the story as she comes to understand them better. Don’t get me wrong, they are still horrible people, but as Nick’s confidence grows she begins to see them in an entirely new light. There is a running theme in the story about what constitutes a family and it’s really fascinating to see how Nick’s opinion on this changes by the end of the novel.

I do think that some people will take exception to the ending (no spoilers here) but I personally felt it was perfect. The more that I think about it, the more I realise that a more typical faerie tale ending would just have been unsatisfying. Nick’s decisions over the last few chapters make perfect sense for her. If she had done anything differently, it would have completely turned its back on all of her development.

I don’t really have that much more to critique with regards to Mechanica. It’s really that good. It’s has a strong feminist message, it stays true to the story of Cinderella while retaining its own distinct tone and it just screams for a sequel. I’ve already pre-ordered my copy of this novel and I thoroughly recommend that all of you do the same.

Mechanica is due for release on the 25th August and is currently available to pre-order on

3 Comments (+add yours?)

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