5 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this work.
This was absolutely enchanting and enjoyable. I normally do not go for Cinderella rewrites because the original fairy tale is so concentrated on having a prince come and do the rescuing, but this rewrite addresses and changes that in the best way possible.
Nicolette lives with her evil stepmother and two stepsisters as per the usual fairy tale. Her mother was a talented inventor and Nicolette takes after her, so when a mysterious note delivered on her 16th birthday gives her directions to her mother’s secret workshop, Nicolette immediately starts planning a brighter future for herself than eternal servitude to her step-family. With access to her mother’s supplies, notes, and mechanical horse and insects awoken from dormancy, Niki dreams of attending the royally sponsored technological inventions exposition and finding a patron who will help her set up her own business. To earn the seed money for a wonderful invention for the exposition, she starts crafting smaller inventions and selling them at the town market. It is there she meets Fin and Caro, the first people her own age she has talked to since her father died that are not her step sisters. With the help of her new friends (both human and animal/mechanical), Niki knows she can create something great for the exposition and earn her freedom from her step-mother.
I loved the can-do attitude and self-reliance of Niki. She does not see marriage as the only way out of her predicaments and she has other skills besides singing to animals and being a kind doormat to her family’s whims. She is strong and interesting. She is willing to accept help from her friends, but not totally dependant on others to save her. She picks herself up when she is down and counts on her own skills to be enough to get her what she wants.
The book’s focus on friendship instead of romance (though there is a little) is completely unique amongst all of the Cinderella rewrites I have encountered and I love it. The Cinderella character is usually very isolated, with her only friends being household animals. It is completely understandable that a person in that position would crave some sort of meaningful human companionship, and in this book she gets it. She doesn’t instantly fall in love with one person, she slowly builds up trust and goodwill with two people her own age in a way that more accurately resembles how human relationships actually work. I love the change and it really makes the book more accessible to boys and girls who are not interested in purely romance-driven plot lines.
The book has a neat back story of magic being driven out of the kingdom that adds some depth to the world and some political dimensions to the story. I would have liked to see it resolved a bit more completely, but this way I can hope for a sequel or companion book. It also gives the work a cursory message about stereotypes and political overreactions that can demonize a whole people.
This book is really perfect for fans of Gail Carson Levine. It has the same light-hearted and very imaginative fantasy feel interspersed with surprisingly poignant moments set in a very detailed world. The writing is descriptive and smooth, with a simplicity that will make it accessible to older elementary, but with character that makes it appealing to adults. Details like the addition of an underground black market for fairy goods and ashes that can animate mechanical animals make the world and the magical system in place more robust and three-dimensional.
For parents looking for good books for their daughters, this one has a great message. Niki is interested in STEM-type activities, is strong and passionate, and works to save herself instead of passively waiting for a prince. It has a great message for young girls: that with hard work and the help of friends, you do not need a prince to save you.
I really fell in love with this one quickly and it did not disappoint with the ending. I am recommending this one to a ton of my friends because it has such broad appeal. Please read!