I admit I don’t read many retellings of classic fairy-tales. They just don’t tend to interest me that much. But when I saw this steampunk retelling of Cinderella, I was all over that! I love me some steampunk feminism! And let’s be clear, this book is nothing like Cinder, and I do think this book suffered some from coming out close to the same time as that super popular series. These two retellings have nothing in common except their source material. Our MC in this book, Nicolette, is an inventor, she makes amazing things in the workshop her mother left behind. It’s her one source of solace in a home where her step family have diminished her to a life of servitude, bereft of love. I love the idea that Nicolette isn’t looking for anyone to rescue her. She makes plans to get out and live a life of her choosing free of her step family and follows through on it. It has a very strong message for young women on not needing a man to complete you, and the power of female friendships. The book has a delicious bitter sweetness to it for the most part that I liked, but overall the book felt incomplete with too many loose ends that were so interesting! And when those plot points didn’t actually get explored, it made the rest of the book feel boring and other subplots feel tacked on with little regard to the story as a whole.
I really do like the prose and descriptions in this book. I loved Nicolette’s mechanical bugs and animal friends, especially her horse Jules. I love the drive Nicolette has and her determination to buy back her family home someday. I enjoyed that she didn’t care for the ball and didn’t even want to go, all she wanted was to show off her inventions at a technological exposition and get a patron so she could start following her own dreams and passions. That’s beautiful! That’s strong and uplifting and after all the crap that Nicolette suffers through from her step family, and heck, even her own father and his growing zealotry, all I want is for Nicolette to succeed and, yes, get her happy ending. She is a likeable character, one who is both very smart, but very shy in a believable way—she is kept away from anyone who may love her and only ever gets to know her step sisters and their suitors. She makes sense as a character, but the world building is where this book just falls so, so flat.
The reader is introduced to a lot of mysteries and is hinted toward a huge conflict and war between the humans and the Fey realm. Yes! There is magic and a Fey realm and the Fey’s are kicked out of the human lands because of—essentially—racism and homophobia and there’s this conflict where the paranoid king blames the Fey for his son’s death and therefore hides away his last remaining Heir. How the Fey have children and what their magic is, is always a little vague but it comes up so often that I was expecting answers. I got none. The book ends with this war looming and no answers about how things like the Ashes work, or why they are feared, or their connection to Jules. The prince fell flat to me as a character and I couldn’t buy any of the romances. Granted the romances are not the point of this story at all, but rather the friendships, but the romances ARE there and feel so tacked on with little thought, that I struggled to understand why there was suddenly a kind of love triangle to begin with. It was so frustrating that it soured the strong friendships a bit for me, too. But regardless, you can’t tease all these exciting things, all this potential conflict, and then completely end the story without addressing a single one and literally leaving it as “war is coming”. It really made me wonder if this book would be a series but alas, it is not. Instead of getting more of that conflict, we get a lot of time with Nicolette (her step sisters call her Mechanica to be mean, but when her friends call her that she loves it) watching her talk about the things she’s building in her workshop, or the various chores she has to do. It got real boring, real fast especially when the author had something more interesting teased in the story, but didn’t follow through with it at all.
I wanted to love this book. I love the cover, love the concept, I even love how depressing Nicolette’s life is early on, and especially love Jules. But I kept waiting for something to happen. For all these cool things that got teased to have the payout they deserved. I could have done without the half-hearted love triangle, and desperately wanted more from the prince. I guess I wanted this to be more like the movie “Ever After” with steampunk flavors but I didn’t get any of that, and I honestly was really disappointed in the ending, but not for the reason you may be thinking, either. I won’t say more here because of spoilers but I am happy to go in depth as to why privately. But because I do like the overall message, the concept, some of the characters, and that cover, I’ve been really struggling to rate this. The writing is fine, especially for younger readers, but there was almost too much going on with the world, and nothing going on in the actual story, that I ended up bored and disappointed, so I’m giving this 2.5 stars but rounding up when need be. Oh well, maybe I’ll enjoy other retellings more.
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