This is the story of Nicolette Lampton of Esting, an Estinger born with an Esting father, and a Fey mother from Faerie, a country that thrives more on magic than her home town. Nicolette grew up in childhood lucky enough to live in a castle with a helper named Mr. Candery, because her mother was an inventor with a magic touch for gears and screws, and her father is very good at business and selling. That is until tensions grow between the Fae and the Estingers when royalty ends up poisoned with lovesbane, a drug that kills lethally if just a little too much is consumed, when otherwise it is the perfect antidote, and the Fae are blamed for the crime. The father ends up so mortified and protective of his people despite his Fae wife and her love for magic that their family is torn apart and she gets a stepmother and two stepsisters, Piety and Chastity, who move into the house, and her new mother immediately places her under servant quarters, to wash clothes, do laundry, serve meals, knit fancy clothes and clean messes, with the privilege of staying under the roof usually the sole recompense. Except one day a letter ends up in her possession from her late mother informing Nicolette about a secret passageway in the castle, filled with notes and materials for building the inventions they have written down on them, as well as a miniature horse the size of my hand named Jules, made of cogs and bolts but walks around with a mind of his own. Nic soon manages to be able to build the inventions to help her knit and sew, the job she’s the absolute worst at out of all of them, and she now has time to imagine all she could do with this extra time; maybe even build something so incredible that at the next inventor’s Exhibition, she’ll be able to dazzle someone enough to be willing to invest and she can escape the wrath of her despicable stepfamily.
To put it in terms for people without a diploma in mechanics, Mechanica deals with a decent story idea in a not-so-decently structured way. The magic is better than fine; its small riffs and raffs allow it to feel like its spells and fantastical miracles cannot take over cities and regions but just help with basic life once in a while, which is, for as much as it can be, realistic. The story is fine too; with all the dystopias talking about lost chosen ones, and rebellion leaders, this one discusses someone trying to make a fair wage in order to have a life away from a heartless family, who’s not trying to change theeee world but herrrrr world. A lot of us tend to live similar stories, maybe not all with abusive families but with someone or something we’re trying to fight. The big catch is, the book talks a lot about the mass deportations and the outlawed magic and the outbreak and the impending war and the talks about stretching the already-barbaric groundlaws, and nothing comes out of it. There’s suggestions the sequel will bring further layers and payoff into this universe, and that for now this chapter of Nicolette’s story had to be told first, but there’s so much stuff in here we didn’t need that makes us feel like there could’ve been a more head-on and as a result more fast-paced story. Yes, the story is investing for all it’s worth. It’s just not that entertaining compared to books that do end up following the usual typical route.
The stepsisters and stepmother are fun to hate. They make you imagine how it would be like if you had to live with a new stepfamily, and if they’d be exactly like the stereotypes the classic Cinderella story has put up, or if there’d be an alternative somehow, with stepsisters who actually embraced the decorations and books Nic set up for the room that used to be hers that they would then take over with. When a book has conceited brats for antagonists, I sometimes have to step back and think. Would I have preferred more development? Or not? Because sometimes the best antagonists need not fleshing out because they’re just so despicable you really want something bad to happen to them. Other times it may feel like they’re evil just because this story needs an antagonist and there’s lazily no reasoning shown for how they got to be worthy of the cane. And I’ve read loads of books I’ve both loved and hated with bad guys like that. I guess it mostly depends on how much I’m enjoying the rest of the book, so the fact this book was overall kind of so-so leaves me pondering.
The best part of the book is Jules and how the story revolves a lot around him. I don’t know how he was made and Nic has a lot more to learn if she wants to ever know all of his kinks as well, but the way he helps Nic feel happy and accomplished in the worst times and the comfort he brings, with the help of his miniature horse body instead of in spite of it, helps us readers feel like we’re reading about a stray puppy embracing (and being embraced by) a new and loving companion. Cornwell did a good job of making us care about what would happen and what happens to him and what cataclysms he may have to go through. There’s a dream sequence primarily about Jules that positively messes us up a little.
I also enjoyed the contributions Nicolette manages to make for herself, but these end up more few and far between than I expected. She ends up having to allow friends to do some of her work for her, which I guess had to happen. I just wish there was more progress shown on how many bucks, or in this world, crowns, that she was managing, and a sense of how much things generally cost, in order for us to feel the progression she was putting under her belt.
For a fantasy book about trying to escape a terrible family, Mechanica is fine. For a fast-paced ride of a Cinderella retelling, I’d look towards Marissa Meyer instead.