Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

13455099 Mechanica is a beautiful, heartbreaking retelling of Cinderella for feminist fans of traditional fairy tales.

Ever since her parents' deaths, Nicolette has been treated like a servant by her step-family. They call her "Mechanica," mocking her for love of inventing, but when she finds her mother's abandoned workshop, she decides that her inventions will be her path to escape. There will be a royal exhibition in a few weeks, and if Nicolette can present something truly wonderful, if she can find a patron, then she can finally have her freedom again.

Readers should be warned that this isn't a Cinderella retelling in the vein of Cinder or Throne of Glass, with plot-heavy elements and the fate of the world in the balance. It's a bildungsroman, a story of a character, and although that character and that story are fantastically crafted, and the world-building hints at fascinating possibilities, it's a very different reading experience from a lot of YA fantasy retellings.

That said, Nicolette is an amazing heroine. She's resourceful, determined, and incredibly intelligent, heartbroken and furious by what she endures, something of a dreamer but always fighting for what she wants. She feels like the protagonist of a fairy tale, but a new one, one where enchantment and self-determination mix, and where courage and self-confidence save the day.

And Nicolette's story will hit you right in the heart. Cornwell conveys emotion with amazing skill, making you feel exactly as Nicolette feels. I cried multiple times reading this novel. I grinned and leapt for joy. I hoped, and I feared, and I felt my heart shatter. As a reading experience, it was both terrible and wonderful, just as you want a character-focussed novel to be.

Mechanica is in constant dialogue with the familiar tale of Cinderella, and with our expectations of it. The reader will realize, within moments, when the protagonist meets her "prince in disguise," and cynical readers might scoff at their ability to see this "plot twist" from a mile away. But the book expects you to notice the prince, and it expects you to anticipate that Cinderella plot you've seen a million times before. That knowledge is woven into the novel's emotional arc, and Cornwell plays off these preconceptions and expectations with incredible skill. The result is a novel that feels both traditional and incredibly modern, with a powerful emotional punch.

In short, Mechanica is an enchantingly told tale, with gorgeous prose, wonderful characters and magical worldbuilding. It is deeply, unflinchingly feminist, and an absolute wonder to read. Go read it!