Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

I chose this book as part of my interest in exploring the steampunk genre. It’s a young adult version of Cinderella, only it involves elements of steampunk and a super-empowered protagonist.

Mechanica, or Nicolette, is a girl whose mother passed away. Following the traditional fairy tale, her father remarried a less-than-kind woman with two daughters of her own, both of whom have ugly souls. The book plays with elements of the traditional fairy tale while adding its own twist.

While the world created is a steampunk one, there are also elements of magic: the people have discovered a realm of fairies who use magic, such as a potion that allows you to remain hidden from people who know you.

On her sixteenth birthday, Mechanica discovers that her mother left part of her workshop hidden and ready for Mechanica’s use. There, she fixes tiny, sentient steampunk insects as well as a horse, Jules II, that her mother had created. She doesn’t fully understand how the creations seem to have a consciousness, but she learns that there is something called ashes that her mother acquired, and that spooks even the fairy folk. A small sprinkling of the ashes (which move on their own where they are stored) seems to add life to the creations.

I enjoyed the way the tale played with traditional elements of the fairytale while adding a modern twist. The main character was certainly empowered and left behind all the helplessness that many “damsels in distress” seem to show. I also liked the steampunk element, though there was a weird mix of fairy and steampunk.

What I would improve is the order of the story. It was told in Mechanica’s voice, and it seemed like she wasn’t always able to organize it into the most effective tale possible. At times I felt she repeated herself or told us something she should have mentioned earlier, simply because it came up at that point in the plot. While I understand it’s told in an authentic teenage voice, it felt a bit rough from a reader’s perspective. Still, I’m glad I read the book, and I would pass it along to anyone wanting to read about an empowered individual taking her destiny into her own hands.

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