Author: Marissa Meyer
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: January 3rd 2012
Hardcover: 387 pages
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
In this thrilling debut young adult novel, the first of a quartet, Marissa Meyer introduces readers to an unforgettable heroine and a masterfully crafted new world that’s enthralling.
Stand alone or series: First in the Lunar Chronicles series
How did we get this book: Review copies via NetGalley
Why did we read this book: Cinder is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella in which she is a freaking Cyborg! How could we not want to read this?
Ana: I had high expectations for Cinder based on the positive advance reviews I’ve seen and on how much I wanted to read a futuristic retelling of Cinderella in which the main character is a Cyborg – and in the words of Doctor Who: Cyborgs are cool. And “cool” is a perfectly fine word for this book – not only it meshes really well the fairytale elements with the futuristic setting but it also introduces a likable, capable female protagonist that I could totally root for.
Thea: I, too, had high expectations for Cinder because the concept is so risque and brilliant. Cybernetic Cinderella in a future dystopian iteration of a China on the precipice of war with an evil Lunar Empire? YES. And you know what? Cinder absolutely delivers on the entertainment and action scale and I thoroughly enjoyed the story…with a few reservations.
On the Plot:
Ana: It is the future, years after World War IV and the planet is plagued by a deadly disease called letumosis. In New Beijing, teenage Cinder is a Cyborg – part human, part robot – whose talent for mechanics is exploited by her selfish Stepmother, who is her official Guardian, after the death of her adoptive father. As a Cyborg, Cinder is universally despised and the thing she fears the most is the Draft: in which Cyborgs are drafted by the government to become test subjects to find the cure for the plague and no Cyborg has ever survived it. Unfortunately for Cinder, her beloved stepsister Peony catches the disease the same day that her services as a mechanic are required by cute Prince Kai. Both occurrences set in motion a chain of events in which she discovers the truth about her own blood and finds herself at the center of political intrigues with the horrible, warmongers Lunar people.
Story-wise, Cinder has different yet interconnected threads. On one hand, there is Cinder and her family life, her difficulties at being unloved and exploited by her stepfamily which in this novel are further complicated by the fact that she is a Cyborg in a world that doesn’t exactly welcome them as equal beings to humans. On the other hand, there is the world in the future and the plague, the stress of the politics between the Earth and the Moon and its Lunar people and their Queen. All of this combines in a way to build Cinder’s internal and external conflict and I thought all was really well done especially with regards to the world-building and the fairytale crossover. Although the Cinderella elements are almost secondary to the story, I thought they were expertly handled by the author and it was fun how certain aspects of the tale were incorporated differently here (like the shoe, the carriage, etc). It also has to be said that there is of course, a certain level of predictability stemming from the connection with Cinderella as well as fairly obvious plot twist about Cinder’s true identity. In fact, this was so obvious that I suggest this was done on purpose. To me, it made it all the more fun to follow Cinder through the discoveries she was making.
That said, whilst I thought these elements to be well done, and the world-building to be fairly developed, the same can’t be said about the particular setting of this story. The story is set in a place called New Beijing and for all intents and purposes everything sounds Chinese and it seems that everything should be Chinese but there is never a clear description of its people (I still don’t know how Prince Kai LOOKS LIKE, for example. I know he is supposed to be cute and hot but in what way I don’t know), is places, its culture. It is a potentially cool, different setting that is grossly under-developed to the point where I wondered what was the point? It was not a deal-breaker because I truly enjoyed everything else but it was quite frustrating.
It also needs to be said that Cinder is the first in a new series so although this first book follows the story of Cinderella, I believe this fairytale element is basically over now. It will be interesting to see how the story develops.
Thea: I agree with much of what Ana says – the parts of the book I loved the most were the action elements of the plot. While the “Cinderella” retelling is pretty ancillary to the plot, I still loved the clever way Ms. Meyer incorporates key elements of the fairytale with a cyborg twist. (Cinder’s foot, for example, is completely robotic, and it falls off at a key scene. You get the picture.) I also loved the creation of an evil lunar empire, watching the Earth from not so far away and scheming towards solar system domination. These Lunars have mind-manipulative abilities that poor Earthlings are unable to resist, and the Lunar Queen is the most skilled enchantress (well, technically bioelectrical manipulation master) of the bunch. There’s something deliciously Star Wars-esque about the Lunars and their Queen (who, underneath her immaculate glamour I’m sure looks JUST like Chancellor Palpatine-cum-Super Wrinkly Evil Emperor).
While there is a layer of tensions and discrimination between Earthers and Lunars, there’s also a deeper divide between human and cyborg – for all that Cinder is 2/3 flesh and blood, her cybernetic parts mean that she is not allowed to own anything and is the property of her stepmother. It’s a great opportunity for a deeper examination of slavery, ownership, and humanity, and though Marissa Meyer only superficially deals with these hefty thematic issues in Cinder (primarily through the eyes of Cinder, but also with regards to Cinder’s dear friend and loyal family droid Iko), I have high hopes that as Cinder’s strength and awareness grows, these themes will be dealt with more at length in future books.1
While I did love these aspects of the book, I do have some niggling reservations that prevented me from enjoying it more. First, there’s the predictability of the plot – you know the “twist” from very early on in the story, and as the reveal is made basically on the last page of the novel, this indicates it is supposed to be a huge revelation and/or cliffhanger. Yeah, not so much. There are also the larger problems of plausibility and worldbuilding. Unlike Ana, I am not quite persuaded by the haphazard world created by Ms. Meyer in Cinder. This is supposed to be a future iteration of a war and plague devastated world, set in “New Beijing”. Yet, besides the name New Beijing and some half-hearted attempts and Chinese names2, there is nothing tying this story to Beijing or China in the slightest. There are no cultural references, no exploration of custom, and there’s an odd absence of detail when it comes to setting and description. For all we know, this story could have been set in New Geneva and it would have worked exactly the same – and this, to me, is a really big problem.3 Beyond the lack of any cultural makeup to the novel, my other sizable issue with regards to the world is the plausibility chasm. Are we meant to believe that in a New Beijing overrun with a deadly, incurable plague, the super swoony HEIR PRINCE walks about market stalls willy-nilly, looking for teenage mechanics to repair his SUPER SECRET android? Wouldn’t he, I don’t know, SUMMON the best mechanic in all the land to the palace, make sure they undergo rigorous plague testing, and then keep them under lock and key until the job is done? Furthermore, the instant attraction that blooms between Kai and Cinder strikes me as wholly artificial and a plot device to move the story along/keep it in tune with the guise of the fairytale…and I just can’t quite buy it. But more on that in a bit.
On the Characters:
Ana: I liked most characters, both the secondary ones and the protagonist Cinder – I thought she was easily relatable, how she is capable, and a mechanic with serious skills and how ultimately, she acted as her own fairy godmother. I also appreciated the choices that were made toward the end of the story not only by Cinder but also by Prince Kai.
Speaking of which, there are a few chapters from Prince Kai’s point of view as well but I never really got why this was needed at all because even with chapters from his point of view, Kai remains a mystery to me. The biggest problem I had with the book though, is how I wasn’t entirely sold on the budding romance between Kai and Cinder as Kai’s attraction to Cinder seemed to have been developed out of nowhere and was puzzling to say the least. In all fairness, this was not the central focus of the story.
A final word about the main villain, the Lunar Queen Levana: she was cool. Cold, evil, and ruthless. She is someone to be REALLY feared bringing high levels of real danger to this story.
Thea: The saving grace for the book, to me, is Cinder’s strong characterization. She’s a tough heroine that is capable of love and sorrow (even if her tear ducts have been removed and she can’t cry), and she’s smart and resourceful enough to know that she can only rely on herself to get out of scrapes. There’s no fairy godmother here – unless you count a certain doctor friend – and for the most part, Cinder makes the tough decisions all on her own. THAT is awesome. Also, can I just say that I *love* the vision of a bedraggled, grease-smudged Cinderella, crashing her vintage gasoline car into a tree to make her way to the Ball – not to dance with the Prince, but to save the day?
I have one thing that I have to say about Cinder, though, just to get it off my chest. In a world that is supposedly a future China, in which all of the characters (or at least a good deal of them) are presumably Chinese; in a book that is billed as a future dystopian SF Chinese Cinderella retelling, why is it that our beautiful Cinderella heroine is European/Lunar and Caucasian?4 Ultimately, ethnicity doesn’t change the story or detract from the awesomeness of Cinder’s character, but it bothers me because this is a lost opportunity for a PoC heroine.
I also have to agree with Ana in that I didn’t buy the romance between Kai and Cinder. I don’t really think there’s much to go on with Kai’s character. For all that he seems like a nice guy and hits all the right prince charming notes, there’s nothing distinct, memorable or anything to connect with when it comes to our prince. As far as the other characters are concerned, I share Ana’s appreciation of the Lunar Queen Levana – she’s a pretty badass villainess. The other standout character, to me, is Cinder’s stepmother Adri (though again, weird name choice) – I appreciate that Ms. Meyer shows a depth to Adri and her attachment to Cinder’s adoptive father, which lends a humanity to what could have been a one note villain.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Despite the criticisms I had, I devoured the book in basically one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. Will most definitely be back for the sequel.
Thea: Yup, what Ana said. There are some issues with the story that I cannot overlook, but I enjoyed Cinder, and I’ll be back for book 2.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
The screw through cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. Her knuckles ached from forcing the screwdriver into the joint as she struggled to loosen the screw one gritting twist after another. By the time it was extracted far enough for her to wrench free with her prosthetic steel hand, the hairline threads had been stripped clean.
Tossing the screwdriver onto the table, Cinder gripped her heel and yanked the foot from its socket. A spark singed her fingertips and she jerked away, leaving the foot to dangle from a tangle of red and yellow wires.
She slumped back with a relieved groan. A sense of release hovered at the end of those wires— freedom. Having loathed the too-small foot for four years, she swore to never put the piece of junk back on again. She just hoped Iko would be back soon with its replacement.
Cinder was the only full-service mechanic at New Beijing’s weekly market. Without a sign, her booth hinted at her trade only by the shelves of stock android parts that crowded the walls. It was squeezed into a shady cove between a used netscreen dealer and a silk merchant, both of whom frequently complained about the tangy smell of metal and grease that came from Cinder’s booth, even though it was usually disguised by the aroma of honey buns from the bakery across the square. Cinder knew they really just didn’t like being next to her.
A stained tablecloth divided Cinder from browsers as they shuffled past. The square was filled with shoppers and hawkers, children and noise. The bellows of men as they bargained with robotic shop keepers, trying to talk the computers down from their desired profit t margins. The hum of ID scanners and monotone voice receipts as money changed accounts. The netscreens that covered every building and filled the air with the chatter of advertisements, news reports, gossip.
You can read the full excerpt HERE.
Notable Quotes/Parts: There’s a free short story prequel to Cinder available on Tor.com – it’s non-spoilery, so definitely worth checking out!
Also, apparently the Lunar Chronicles are not solely focused on Cinder and her story (actually, we don’t know if they are focused on Cinder at all in the subsequent books). Due out in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively, are the subsequent novels in the Lunar Chronicles, which also present futuristic sci-fi twists on fairytales: Scarlet is inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, Cress is a take on Rapunzel, and Winter offers a spin on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. This is awesome and all well and good, but we can’t help but be a little concerned that we won’t get more of Cinder’s clearly unfinished story.
Ana: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
Thea: 6 – Good, but with some sizable reservations
Reading Next: The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells
Buy the Book:
- Although…Ana and I have just learned that Cinder is the first in a quartet that each explore different fairy tale retellings. Does this mean we won’t get more of Cinder’s story? Or will they all be interwoven? If this is the last we see of Cinder, then I’m disappointed. ↩
- Many of the names are actually more Japanese sounding (e.g. Iko and Kaito), while many of them are just strange names that fit a typical Western European-esque mold (e.g. Peony, Pearl). ↩
- The obvious and immediate counterpoint is Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, featuring a sythentic heroine (not too unlike Cinder) and set in a future dystopian Thailand that is impeccably described and rich in culture, detail, and utterly believable because of it. ↩
- If we are meant to take the book trailer seriously, then Cinder IS Caucasian, as the publisher clearly states: “Live-action trailers for all four installments of the Lunar Chronicles were shot in Manhattan last week in a single session, to ensure continuity in the depiction of the characters. Meyer provided the publisher with detailed synopses of each of the books and descriptions of their key characters to help casting agents find actors for the shoot who “really fit the billing,” Killick says.” ↩