Mechanica has been on my to-read list for a while, and I finally got to it as part of my 2017 reading challenge, for the category of "A book with a title that's a character's name." Now, to be fair, Mechanica isn't the given name of the main character of the story--no more so than Cinderella is the given name of that character. Rather, it's a nickname given to the character by her evil stepfamily.
As with the traditional Cinderella story, Nicolette is rather abused by her stepmother and two stepsisters in the years following the death of her father. But unlike the traditional Cinderella, Nicolette--also known as Nick--is a mechanic and inventor, following in the footsteps of her mother, who mixed magic and mechanics to create fabulous miniature creatures which can create tasks assigned to them in addition to simpler inventions that make life easier. Nicolette's world is also one that's torn by an ongoing conflict with the Fey, who hail from a continent across the sea and have been suppressed by her country, Esting, for years.
This was a delightfully refreshing fairy tale adaptation. I don't mind adaptations that stick fairly faithfully to the originals, and I was initially a little disappointed when I found that Nicolette wasn't adhering as closely to the "poor girl treated as a maid finds a prince and falls in love" trope as I'd anticipated, no matter how much mechanical and innovative padding was added to the story. (I also, from the cover, kind of thought that Nicolette herself was going to be some sort of automaton, but that's mostly because I clearly did not read the description.) But in the very beginning of the book, Nicolette finds herself fascinated by how the Fey build families and friendships, and that becomes a compelling motivation for her. She doesn't just want to fall in love. She wants to be loved, in more ways than romantically, and that is what propels her throughout the story. Yes, she wants to be free of her stepfamily, but it's more than just that. That is such a lovely and unusual motivation for this type of story that it was, in the end, very refreshing, as are Nicolette's choices when she is ultimately faced with them.
That said, I still didn't love the story. I wish that the stepfamily had been given a bit more dimension. Cornwell tries to give the stepmother a bit of humanity toward the end of the book, but backpedals from it pretty quickly--Nicolette doesn't want to see her stepmother as human. I found that rather disappointing; I'd hoped for better from her. There's been a recent trend of giving the stepfamily a bit more humanity and I would have liked to see that continue here, but that wasn't really the case. Additionally, I would have liked to see more interactions between Nicolette and Fin. Considering her emotions towards him, I think it would have been good if they'd had more interactions than Nicolette could count on one hand. There are also a few worldbuilding things I would have liked to have seen fleshed out more--like the Ashes. Someone mentions they're cursed, and yet that doesn't seem to go anywhere, nor does Nicolette seem to be that concerned about that possibility. But perhaps those will be ironed out in a future book?
Overall, a refreshing fairy tale adaptation, with some lovely, innovative elements, but I think it could have done with a bit more depth.
3.5 stars out of 5.