Goodreads synopsis: 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.
I grew up reading fairy tales and feeling sort of let down by every princess’ need to be swept off her feet by a charming prince or rescued by a handsome huntsman. As I got older, I found the original Grimm’s fairy tales and found they were must less happy yet much more compelling than the “happily ever after” versions. Shortly thereafter, I discovered science fiction and found futuristic tales of kings, queens, and warriors to be vastly preferable to those of the Brothers Grimm.
Then along came Marissa Meyer, weaving together elements of fairy tale, science fiction, and anime with beautiful prose and a compelling plot. I’m not sure what I expected when I turned the first page of Cinder, but any expectations I could have had were far exceeded as I found myself drawn completely into the world of New Beijing.
First of all, it’s great to read a book that gives us a not Anglo-centric hero and heroine and takes us outside the usual settings. New Beijing is part of a new Earth, a planet trying to rebuild and maintain peace after a fourth world war, but make no mistake, this is not another dystopia. Instead we are presented with a world sure to make any reader of Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings happy. New Earth finds itself in a precarious peace with the Lunars—residents of the moon. That peace now hangs in the balance and it is up to the young and inexperienced Prince Kai to maintain the tenuous alliance.
Another refreshing aspect of this novel was the glaring lack of a love triangle. I know, I know, people love choosing sides in the triangles, but I tend to get weary of all the indecision. There is romantic tension and a fair share of heartbreak, but none of it feels overdone or melodramatic. Meyer’s characterization is spot-on and feels natural. While nods are given to the characters of the wicked step-mother and step-sisters, rest assured this is not some lazy update of an old fairy tale.
So much more than just a retelling, Meyer has used hints of inspiration from the tale of Cinderella we all know and has created something deliciously new yet eerily familiar. Making Cinder a cyborg in a society that distrusts cyborgs and sees them as good for little more than servants is a brilliant choice and helps to set the tone. Prince Kai is a tormented soul, struggling with the weight of so much responsibility; but absent is any hint of broodiness or whining that is often associated with YA romances. The supporting characters are equally well-developed. Peony and Iko, Cinder’s step-sister and best friend are wonderfully colorful characters. Iko provides much of the comic-relief, and Peony brings a sense of wonder and innocence.
Finally, no fairy tale would be complete without an evil queen. That role is played by the Lunar Queen Levana, a woman set on expanding her empire with little regard for human life. I am hopeful we’ll learn more about the Lunars in upcoming books, because their culture is fascinatingly corrupt.
Of course there is also a royal ball, and a makeshift carriage, and even a nod to the glass slipper—none of this is done in a way you’d expect. While some parts of the plot were a bit predictable, the story is never boring and the reveals are always satisfying. And as for the happily ever after—well, you’ll just have to read and find out.
PS: Cinder is the first in planned four-book series. The next installments will also find their inspiration in fairy tales. I cannot wait to see how this series unfolds. The book will appeal to fans of science fiction, anime, and fairy tales—no prior knowledge of any genre is required to enjoy J (I received an advanced reader copy of Cinder from Netgalley.)