Cinder

Apologies for the delays in recent posts. The night is dark and full of terrors, and I have been struggling to find the motivation to write up my reviews over the last few weeks. Especially due to the topical subject-matter of this one, but more on that shortly.

Cinder was written by Marissa Meyer and first published in 2012. It is a science fiction reimagining of Cinderella, set in a futuristic plague-struck Beijing. The novel forms the first part of The Lunar Chronicles and is followed by Scarlet (2013), Cress (2014) and Winter (2015).

Linh Cinder’s skills as a mechanic have been recognised all over New Beijing. She has even managed to catch the eye of Prince Kai, who has commissioned her to repair his personal android. However, she knows that she will always be a second class citizen. Almost everyone looks down on her due to her cyborg limbs and Cinder knows that her stepmother only tolerates her due to the fact that she is useful.

However, when Cinder’s favourite stepsister contracts letumosis – the deadly blue fever – her stepmother is quick to blame her unwanted child. She immediately donates Cinder to the government for medical research, knowing that this is likely to be fatal. With no right to resist, Cinder quickly finds herself at the mercy of Dr Erland. Yet, in doing so, she makes a startling discovery. She is actually immune to the plague.

The secret to Cinder’s immunity is hidden within her mysterious past, and Cinder is eager to crack it if it could result in a cure for her sister. However, the political situation within New Beijing is tense. The Emperor has recently passed away and the barbaric Lunar Queen is eager to marry Prince Kai to secure her power over the people of the Earth. As Cinder gets closer to the prince, she finds herself in a delicate situation. Can she help find a way to save all life on Earth before the Prince is forced to make a dangerous choice – one that could endanger the freedom of everyone?

I really can’t believe that I waited so long to read this book! Cinder was just so much more than I was expecting. This is not the first time that I have reviewed a retelling of Cinderella on this blog (see Mechanica), but the world-building of this novel just had so much to offer. It is set in a far-future China, where cyborgs are second-class citizens, a deadly plague ravages the world, and Earth is on the brink of war against the authoritarian Queen of the Moon. Although easy to read, the depth of this world was simply staggering and it was certainly unlike any novel that I had ever read before.

The plot of Cinder was fast paced and very quick to capture my attention. Its third person perspective flittered between Cinder (a cyborg mechanic) and Kai (the heir to the New Beijing throne). Through their very different points of view, the novel slowly builds into a compelling and surprisingly political tale. A lot of time was spent on detailing just how different the two sides of society are.

Cinder spends much of her times in crowded markets, scraping to get by and barely able to keep her robotic parts up to date. Kai’s world is one of political fineries, as he is forced to make difficult choices that affect the whole world. Yet it was interesting to see the fact that the plague did not discriminate. A feature that both Kai and Cinder share is the fact that they have been directly affected by leutomosis, thus making clear why both are desperate to find a cure. It also gives a clear reason why Kai would entertain making a deal with the Queen Levana – the obvious Evil Queen of this faerie tale – as the woman is cruel and manipulative but may also hold the secret to ending the outbreak.

However, the story did feel a little too familiar in places. For all its fantastic world-building, it still rigidly stuck to the plot of its source material. There was still the wicked stepmother, the race to get to the ball in time, and the eventual escape and hunt for the mysterious damsel. Naturally, Cinder did put a bit of a spin on all of these things, but it still made the twist a little easy to guess.

While the novel did build to a very intense climax at the ball, I was left a bit disappointed by how the story ended. After the ball, Cinder felt as though it had been cut really short. The novel ended at the point where it really felt as though it had gotten going, not taking any time to wrap up any loose ends and leaving the fate of the very Earth in the balance. While this cliff-hanger was very frustrating, it also made me really want to read the sequel just to find out where the story will head from here.

In terms of character, I felt that Cinder was particularly strong. Cinder is a strong and incredibly likeable protagonist. Although her reliance on her wicked stepmother restricts her independence, she still has a strong moral compass and enough spine to stand up for herself. Her attraction to Kai is slow-building and therefore felt very natural, as did her concerns that he would discriminate against her if he ever figured out that she was a cyborg.

Kai was also a deeply sympathetic character. While I did not feel as though we had a chance to get to know him as well as Cinder, you certainly did get a sense of how conflicted he was. Although inexperienced and thrown into a leadership position before he was ready, Kai was determined to do what was best for New Beijing, even if this did mean sacrificing himself or his loved ones to do so.

Although the supporting cast was fantastically diverse, I did feel that the villains were perhaps a little shallow. This is where the novel truly felt like a faerie tale. While Meyer did at least do a little to explain why Adri hated her stepdaughter so much, her attitude still felt over-blown and overly vindictive. Queen Levana also lacked nuance, being very much the evil queen and seemingly possessing no redeemable features whatsoever.

So, all in all, Cinder was an incredibly strong start to the series. While it did have a few flaws, these were more than redeemed by the memorable world-building and well-rounded protagonists. I really can’t wait to see where the story will go from here.

Cinder can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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