Betsy Cornwell was born in New Hampshire, but currently resides overseas with her horse-trainer husband, and it’s the mystique of Ireland which has infiltrated the fanciful tale called Mechanica. At twenty seven, Cornwell has not forgotten her childhood, as she embues life into her youthful characters. Mechanica is Nicolette Delacourt Lampton’s story beginning in her early years when she is trained by her engineering mother instead of being forced into the traditional schooling of her peers. At a young age she is able to repair the fanciful creations of her mom, Margot, which her father, William, sells at an exhorbitant price to the curious. You see, her mom has magic in her touch, faerie magic, which makes her creations of delightful, winged insects come alive. Ironically, it is the fey croup which eventually kills her, the one whose only cure is the forbidden Lovesbane. After the Queen’s death from an overdose of this medication (more than a few drops is fatal), magic was banished from the realm. William, swayed by the hysteria, rejects all things fey and refuses to purchase this expensive item from the black market as he helplessly watches his wife die. The nine year old Nicolette is devastated by this loss, but continues to practice the craft her mother had taught her under the supervision of Mr Candery, the half faerie housekeeper/nursemaid, until the day her father brings home a new wife, Lady Halving, and her two beautiful daughters, Piety and Chastity, to Lampton Manor. Nicolette’s excitement on acquiring two playmates quality dissipates as her step sisters immediately show their scorn at her attempts at welcome and decide to mockingly refer to her as Nick. While out of town peddling his wares, her father is caught in the beginning hostilities between fey and man, becoming one of the first casualties of the banishment of faerie life. At the age of ten, Nicolette finds her life totally transformed with the immediate dismissal of the only link to her past, Mr Candery, and her new job title of household servant. Run ragged by her step family, her chores are made easier by the bits of magic left behind by the kindly Candery as well as various household cleaning inventions which lighten the load. On her sixteenth birthday, Nick mysteriously finds a letter from her mom leading her to a secret workshop containing her mother’s fanciful creations. Back in her element, Nick practices her craft and begins to design new creations with the help of Jules, a tiny intelligent mechanical horse who organizes the others to help his new mistress in her numerous chores, including the sewing of the many outfits demanded by her greedy and vain stepsisters. When news of a ball is announced, they both must have new, stunning ball gowns just in case they get to meet the secluded, closely guarded Heir. Nick is more concerned about the Inventor’s Exposition, a sort of invention convention, to be held the following day. Here is her opportunity to break free of life under “The Steps” and set up her own business, if she could only find a likely sponsor interested in backing her designs.
As you might have guessed, this story is a unique twist on the Cinderella tale. While there is no fairy godmother, there is the magical Jules and the talented and resourceful Nicolette who has her own magic touch. With the help from her dwindling storehouse of fey “magic dust” and a couple of secret friends, Nick sets out to accomplish her goals of independence.
Utilizing elements of steampunk, a subgenre of science fiction (which in this instance tweaks 19th century technology with elements of Victorianesque society sprinkled with bits of fantasy), Cornwell has created a unique world complete with a struggle for power where nothing is what it seems. Some of the twists and turns are obvious while others are a surprise. The ending leaves wiggle room for a sequel as the threat of an all out war between the fey and the kingdom looms on the horizon. Beautifully written, the reader has been transported to this wonderland which casts a spell on all who enter. Fascinating more for the setting than the plot, the tale is told in exquisite detail, although the ending feels a little rushed and confusing and the two mysterious friends could use some additional fleshing out. In spite of the possible comparisons to Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Mechanica readily stands on its own merit. Four stars.
An electronic copy of this book was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.