Mechanica: A Steampunk Cinderella Tale

Mechanica, by Betsy Cornwell, is a young adult steampunk retelling of the Cinderella tale. Mechanica, like other modern fairy tale adaptations (Wicked, Maleficent, Frozen) present a strong female character in Nicolette, who is derisively named “Mechanica” by her stepsisters. Like other versions of the Cinderella tale, the mother dies, the father remarries, and then he dies and Nicolette is left in the hands of her stepmother. The “steps” treat her as a servant and abuse her until she is able to escape and live the life she dreamed about through her long years of misery. There are several innovations in this narrative, including the addition of steampunk creations, that make this a vivid and memorable tale.

From This City of Nightmares, What Dreams May Come?

In 1987 K.W. Jeter coined the term “steampunk” in a letter to Locus magazine. Jeter used the term to qualify the neo-Victorian writings that he, James Blaylock, and Tim Powers, were producing. This term was in part a play on the term “cyberpunk,” which was a popular genre in the late 1980s. Steampunk is a genre of speculation, whether it is set in an alternative version of Victorian England, in an alternative American West, in a future where steam power rather than electrical current runs the world, or in a fantasy setting where steam power is in mainstream use. It owes a debt of gratitude for its creation to such authors as Jules Verne, Mary Shelly, and H.G. Wells: Their works are speculative and include many of the aspects that readers now associate with modern steampunk novels. In terms of world building, though, the genre owes an even larger debt to Charles Dickens and his depiction of Victorian England.

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