Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
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. When she discovers a secret workshop in the cellar on her sixteenth birthday—and befriends Jules, a tiny magical metal horse—Nicolette starts to imagine a new life for herself. The timing may be perfect: there’s a technological exposition and a royal ball on the horizon. 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.
I was of course drawn to the gorgeous cover of Mechanica and the promise of a steampunk Cinderella retelling, but the first time I tried reading I must not have been in the right mood because I did not continued past the first few pages. But in the spirit of giving promising things a second chance, I returned and I'm very pleased that I did. I loved most the passages describing Nicolette's mechanical inventions. I delighted in Cornwell's subversion of the traditional fairy tale trajectory, giving this fairy tale a feminist revision. In fact, I delighted in the world-building and writing as a whole. So glad I gave this book another look!