The Story: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series. In this first installment, we’re introduced to its title protagonist, Cinder, who is a cyborg living in futuristic Asia in the household of her odious step-mother and step-sisters. But Cinder’s world is anything but ordinary when she gets caught up in dangerous political intrigue as the Lunar queen seeks to set the date for Earth’s demise. Likewise, a dangerous, devastating plague ravishes the globe and comes to Cinder’s doorstep, motivating her to try to save her people – the same folks who see her as a freak and an outcast for being less than fully human.
My Take: Imagine for a moment if the famous fairy tale of “Cinderella” got a sci-fi reboot with a cyborg mechanic as the leading lady, futuristic Asia as the kingdom, and a robotic foot as the glass slipper. If your gut reaction wouldn’t be…
Then I guess nothing surprises you.
But after reading the novel, I changed my tune completely…
Because Cinder was that good. I could have easily finished it in a day, but, alas, time was against me so I was forced to finish it in two days instead. To say the least, I was fully engrossed to the end and thoroughly impressed as well as entertained.
One of the chief things that makes Cinder work (at least for me) was that it is not a strict, play-by-play retelling of “Cinderella.” I would have read this novel sooner but I feared it would bring the cheese factor by trying to stay too close to the original by merely substituting the fairy tale’s elements with sci-fi adornments. Yes, there are aspects of “Cinderella” that get an upgrade here (sci-fi pun intended) but it doesn’t try too hard to make it fit. Meyer constructs a brand new world that comes across as very believable, doesn’t feel overstuffed, and is full of twists and turns.
Character-wise, the cast is brilliant. Cinder, much to my delight, avoids becoming a trope. Yes, she’s smart but there are times when her plans go awry. Yes, she cares about Prince Kai and develops feelings for him but the entire novel isn’t about that nor does she turn anti-man. Yes, she is physically different from everyone else but she doesn’t wallow in self-pity nor shove her differences in everyone’s face in a plea for acceptance. Thus, Cinder is a perfect balance between a good-hearted, warm-natured, intelligent lass and a woman who struggles with self-identity, self-image, and making right choices.
While technically she would be classified as a young adult heroine, Cinder, mercifully, doesn’t act like like an immature teen.
I know – about time in the YA world, right? (Actually, I didn’t get a huge YA vibe from this book but more on that below.)
The rest of the novel’s cast is equally engaging, including even the minor players. The lack of reliance upon stock characters is refreshing as are the numerous surprises in the story. Most reviewers have cited that they saw those reveals coming but, for me, I didn’t mind. In a few cases I genuinely was surprised, and at other times I was able to piece things together ahead of time. But that just compelled me to keep reading in the spirit of, “Oh, great – what happens now?” Meyer has a real gift at story pacing, which can be tough to maintain in a long book. Cinder reads much faster than it physically appears and, ultimately, it is a smooth, engaging ride.
Plot-wise, the narrative is split between Cinder’s storyline and Prince Kai and the related political players. Normally in such cases, one plot is stronger than the other but that doesn’t prove true in this novel. The main plot and subplots are so interwoven that you can’t have one without the other; both are equally strong and bring out both unique sides of the same conflict. Another feather in this novel’s cap is that even though there are multiple events going on (e.g. the letumosis plague, presence of Lunars, relations between Earth and Luna, etc.), nothing is abandoned or left unfinished (though keep in mind this is the first book in a series, so the novel does end with a major cliffhanger).
Overall, Cinder is a terrific sci-fi read and, despite its size, its pacing causes the plot to fly yet everything is expertly connected. I thoroughly enjoyed Cinder and it hits every mark a good novel should have regarding plotting, pacing, characters, writing, and overall creativity.
Language – Essentially none. If there were any profanities, they were minor and used so sporadically, they were easy to overlook.
Violence – While there are no overt acts of violence (other than one character making an attempt on another character’s life), one running theme is the effect of letumosis, a fictional pathogen that attacks suddenly, kills quickly, and for which there is no cure. Scenes where victims discover they are infected and transported to quarantine, as well as the harrowing portions within the quarantine district, are frightening on a psychological level but they’re not played up for cheap scares.
Sexual Material – None. Some girls talk of flirting with Prince Kai, who is seen as a heartthrob but, thankfully, doesn’t act like he thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Also, Cinder’s robot companion girlishly briefly comments about a palace serving robot possibly having seen the prince naked (but nothing further is speculated).
Cinder is one of the best modern sci-fi reads I’ve come across lately as well as the most creative in terms of premise as it shapes up what seems to be a very large-scale idea and story world. I was shocked it was considered YA lit because it certainly doesn’t read like typical YA lit with its generally sappy romances, cardboard cut-out characters, and ridiculous teenage drama. I actually would hesitate to call Cinder YA lit because it might scare some folks away from reading it!
But don’t be scared – Cinder has something for everyone, not just a teen readership, a female readership, or a female teen readership. If you enjoy solid world-building and characters along with a well-paced, connected plot, then chances are you’ll enjoy Cinder.
And as an added bonus, I wanted to share some of these international covers with you just because I happened to find them online and thought the artwork was worth talking about (no worries – there are no spoilers!). The American cover (which I showcase above) is awesome in its own right, but these just crank up the awesomeness:
This is the Spanish cover (as well as the Polish cover save for the language) and, in some respects, I kind of like it better than the American cover in that we get the whole artificial human vibe here. Plus, ladies, you gotta love the dress!
The Thai cover definitely make the novel appear more YA-friendly and I’m not really feelin’ the ballerina-style dress. But the cyborg leg makes the headless model here stand out and the moon in the background is a nice touch.
The Russian cover is also a bit odd in that the model here looks more like a lunar fairy than, well, the way Cinder is probably supposed to look. Again, this one harbors more of a YA edge to me but it’s an interesting interpretation.
The Portuguese cover (left) and the Korean cover (right) interestingly show Cinder only from the knees/calves down. To confess, the Portuguese cover doesn’t seem to imply the story is sci-fi at all and looks more like your standard YA love story cover. So to the Korean cover’s credit, it at least gives Cinder a cyborg appendage.
This cover (from Taiwain) is pretty cool in that it blends the traditional Cinderella carriage with a robotic lady seated inside. It might be lacking in the color department but it’s still pretty sleek and eye-catching.
And lastly, this German cover is quite minimalist. It took me a few seconds but I finally spied the shoe pattern – can you? How neat! Though I do prefer a far more colorful cover (as this one reminds me of the covers inexpensive classic books sometimes get), I do give it credit for creativity.