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.
-synopsis and cover art courtesy of goodreads.
Atmospheric Analysis: Um. Ack. You know, I like shoes and all–possibly more than the average lady–but that red hooker pump is kind of . . . embarrassing.
Planetary Class: Though it has flashes of post-apocalyptic and science fantasy, Cinder is, perhaps surprisingly, really a space opera at heart.
Mohs Rating: Cinder rates somewhere between a two and a three on the Mohs scale–the deeper you get into the story, the more plausible stuff like bio energy seems, but, you know, sufficiently advanced science can sometimes seem like magic and all of that.
Planetary Viability: This is a complex futuristic world, with strong sociological and technological sci-fi underlying its fairly fantastic plot. It might not be particularly realistic, but Meyer does a good job of making it feel that way.
Xenolinguistical Assessment: Meyer’s prose is clean and efficient, with some nice flourishes and very chatty, readable dialogue.
Expanded Report: Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s debut, easily delivers on the great fun of its premise: it’s a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella, set in New Beijing, with a cyborg as our poor little waif. I suspect there can be a temptation to oversimplify fairytale retellings, relying on the bland characters of the original stories rather than breathing new life into the source material. Here, however, we’re given a fresh spin on this old story.
What makes Cinder more than just fluffy princess stuff is Cinder herself, as well as the diverse cast of characters who surround her. She’s a scrappy, slightly sarcastic mechanic with soft heart. Her speech and reactions are very contemporary-feeling, and I suspect she’ll more easily connect with modern YA readers than either many sci-fi or fairy tale heroines. Her voice is believably adolescent and breezily casual, though not quite cliche enough to be called “snarky.” She’s nicely balanced and realize –even if she is only thirty eight percent human.
Cinder doesn’t remember her childhood–she was raised by a foster family who sets her to mend household electronics while her “stepsisters” preen and giggle and prepare to go to the prince’s ball. Peony and Pearl, like Cinder, are surprisingly fresh and nuanced. Rather than the flat monsters of the fairytale, one sister (Peony) is, though a little superficial, a very sympathetic character. As were other supporting members of the cast: Prince Kai, our love interest; Dr. Erland, who tries to derive from Cinder a cure for the plague that’s destroying the Earthen population; Iko, the completely awesome android. These characters are built deftly, in quick, seemingly-effortless strokes. It’s a cast as vital as any you’ll find on Joss-Whedon penned television.
The plot, likewise, moves briskly, with just enough of the fairytale (the ball; the stepsisters) to ground us, but enough fresh details (a plague! a war between Earth and the moon!) to keep it surprising. Much of the plot concerns the political machinations of the Lunar queen, and the impact of this court drama on New Beijing. And yet it’s never boring–much closer to the original Star Wars trilogy than the prequels.
Cinder‘s romance was particularly striking. Meyer could have easily defaulted to instalove here–the fairytale framework would have excused it. Yet instead, she gives us two down-to-earth, likeable characters, lets them spend sufficient time together to flirt and joke and nearly kiss, and allows the chemistry to grow naturally from there. Though Prince Kai could have been a smarmy love interest–he is a prince, after all–he’s not. He’s respectful and kind, a good foil for Cinder, who is herself a little rough around the edges.
If Cinder has any flaws, they would lie with the villains–who are a bit one dimensional–and the very predictable plot twist that is obviously telegraphed on page 50 and not revealed until the last five pages. I’m almost tempted to forgive Meyer this; it’s a fairytale, after all, and we know exactly what kind of happy endings we’re in for with this sort of story. But she teases the reader in a way that made me wonder if she thought it would ultimately surprise us.
It didn’t surprise me, but this is still a very worthwhile read. I’d easily recommend it to any reader who loves either Firefly or Sailor Moon–who are looking for the same quality of setting and character and, above all, fun.
Cinder comes out January 3rd. It’s available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local indie bookstore. We’re also giving away a copy, generously provided by the publisher (US and Canada only, sorry)! Just comment here before Sunday, January 1st at 11:59 PM EST to enter. And stay tuned on Monday when we’ll be kicking off the Cinder blog tour with a post from Marissa Meyer!