“I had rescued myself entirely.”
Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell is a steampunk, feminist retelling of the classic fairy tale, Cinderalla. Our Mechanica, formally known as Nicolette Delacourt Lampton, or Nick for short, loses her mother at an early age and then her father very quickly thereafter once he’s remarried. This leaves her in the “care” of her stepmother, Lady Halwig, and her even worse stepsisters, The Steps. Nick is quickly divested of her status as a Lady and becomes the Halwig maid. She accepts her fate and secretly puts her mother’s old house cleaning inventions to use in aiding her with all her duties. But the delivery of a letter from her deceased mother on her 16th birthday, along with the Royal invitation for a technological exposition (and ball), changes her focus and her fate.
While it may be a little tedious at times, I believe that Ms. Cornwell builds a solid foundation of the Nicks’ past history, in particular, her unusual upbringing (essentially homeschooled by her inventor mother). The exposition and The Steps excitement about the ball lead Nick out of the house (and momentarily away from her home chores) and into town. Nick is a natural entrepreneur and negotiator. She wheels and deals, not only for fabrics for her Stepsisters dresses (and herself), but in selling some of her wares at market. Nick also meets new friends, Caro & Fin, who have a huge influence on her future direction.
Many people have criticized this novel because “nothing happens.” I argue that there is one thing that happens and all the pages, from the first until the last, are dedicated to it. From the moment Nick receives the letter and enters her mother’s hidden workshop, Nick is singularly focused on her own success at the exposition and how it will lead to her having her own shop (and getting the HELL out of her messed up situation). The elements of magic in the kingdom and the kingdom’s relationship with the Fae are also developed within the exposition. While I wish that there would have more of these elements to draw from, Cornwell does weave them effortlessly into her tale to add a big twist to the classic story.
Overall, this may not be the most exciting release of 2015, but it’s definitely one of the most empowering. I highly recommend this for YA readers of all ages, and, in particular, to middle school readers.