I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes a cover is too pretty not to get sucked in.
Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home.
But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.
Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn’t want a fairy tale happy ending after all.
As always, some mild spoilers!
Sadly, the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” can also apply to books with pretty covers that are… not as pretty inside.
Now, I love a good fairy tale retelling. But sometimes they fall a little flat.
First some good things: A steampunk Cinderella who is good at mechanical things is a super cool premise. There were hints of really interesting world building with talk of a fae kingdom and the conflict between the main character’s kingdom and the kingdom of the fae.
Now the bad. Sadly, the book hints at a upcoming war with the fae kingdom, but that as a possible subplot never came to fruition. Which is too bad, because it the author clearly had put a lot of thought into that aspect of this world and it was an a shame not to see more of that effort used in the book. The idea that the kingdom had had fae people and magic in it before banning anything fae, and the repercussions from that decision were something I really wanted to see more of. We got a small glimpse when Cinderella aka Nicolette went to a black market with fae goods and magic for sale, but not much beyond it. There was even the start of a sublot where Nicolette finds something called “ashes” that is clearly intense magic and she wonders what it they are made from and then that plotline is dropped.
The twist with Fin was not really a twist. I could tell from the instant we met him that he was SPOILER the prince in disguise. The “romance” between him and Nicolette felt very forced, especially given that the author decided not to have Nicolette and the Prince end up together. I applaud that (because it would have felt even more forced if they had gotten married), but I wish the author had just left the half baked romance out entirely. It felt like an attempt at a feminist fairytale (because the girl doesn’t end up with the prince), but it just ended up feeling really contrived.
We spend the whole book building toward the exhibition at the end, but then the ending whizzes by at lightning speed. The ending of this book should have taken much more time than it did (and maybe if it had the kinks with the romance part of the ending could have been ironed out as well).
At the end of the day, this book was okay, but just okay. This book would have benefited from being longer so that the author could have worked in more of the fascinating fae lore she kept hinting at and so the ending could be stronger.
Stay magical readers!