Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Fairytale retellings are always a treat. Best of all is when they are as surprising as Betsy Cornwell's steampunk version of Cinderella. Nicolette is an inventor, as adept with mechanical creations as her mother had been, so she doesn't mind that her nasty stepsisters call her "Mechanica."

The action plays out within a larger political and religious arena that is integral to Nicolette's personal story. Prejudice against magic and the Fey is rising to the point where war seems imminent. Social justice is a central theme, an aspect I found particularly satisfying. When she was still alive and healthy, Nicolette's mother warned her not to trust everything in their country's history books. (That's always good advice.)

"'What are the books wrong about?' I asked, tucking into another sandwich. Thin radish, sweet butter, speckles of salt. An unladylike swig of clear tea."

Which reminds me of another thing I enjoyed; Cornwell's writing style. In the example above, she clearly describes what Nicolette is eating and how enthusiastic she is about her food. These are the kinds of details that make her characters and setting real. 

(And now I'll go off on a complete tangent, because Nicolette's lunch could have been "Radishes with Sweet Butter and Kosher Salt" served at Prune, chef Gabrielle Hamilton's restaurant in New York City. In her cookbook, Prune, Hamilton admonishes: "There is nothing to this, but still... I have seen it go out looking less than stellar - and that's embarrassing considering it's been on the menu since we opened and is kind of 'signature,' if Prune had such a thing as signature dishes." It's a bit different from most restaurant cookbooks, because it's addressed to staff instead of home cooks, even though the recipes are adapted to fewer servings. Before I leave this tangent, I'd like to recommend Hamilton's memoir, Blood, Bones and Butter.)

Back to Mechanica. It's a totally enjoyable feminist tale for ages 11 and up.

Readalikes for more fresh takes on Cinderella: Ash by Malinda Lo and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

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