Cinder is a mechanic. She’s good with wires and hardware and such – a good thing, as a large proportion of her body is made up of these things. In a world where medicine has advanced to the point where those near death can by saved by using non-human parts, she owns a metal foot, hand and a fully operational hard-drive – in short, she’s a cyborg. In New Beijing, she works to support her adoptive mother and sisters, lives in fear of a terrifying plague and a conniving, Lunar queen. Still, Cinder’s getting by OK. OK, that is, until the Emperor’s son, Kai, shows up at her mechanic booth with a broken robot and a winning smile.
Rather than a weak-willed Cinderella, hiding in the fireplace and relying on mice and fairies to make her dreams come true, Cinder is a realist. Like her namesake, she’s a hard worker with a mean step-mother, but unlike Cinder Mark-I, she’s no pushover. She works hard and speaks her mind both at work and at home, despite living in a society where cyborgs are seen as sub-human and a home where she is seen as, er, sub-necessary. What is particularly refreshing about Cinder is that meeting a Prince Charming is not the be all and end all of her existence. In fact Kai, in Cinder’s mind, is a lovely but irritating distraction. Instead of pining for something she can probably never have, she pretty much tells him to get lost – not something one could imagine Cinder-One doing. Cinder is not entirely gung ho, though. Behind her tough façade is lies a girl mourning her father, concerned for her sister and struggling with her identity – is she human or robot? She has no idea and this mix of fragile inner core and outer kick-assness works really well.
Kai could easily have become a two-dimensional prince, a la most fairytales. Yet instead, Marissa Meyer has imbued him with real personality. In fact, he’s a rather tragic figure stuck as he is between his desire to do what is necessary for the future of his country and his need to do what is right for him on a personal level. There are a few sections of the novel told from his point of view, which allow readers an insight into how the other half lives – which isn’t happily when they seem to be in the manipulative grasp of Queen Levana, the Lunar ruler. Levana is the archetypal evil monarch – with added badness. Seriously, she’s wicked through and through and at times genuinely chilling, not to mention great fun to read. As the other villain of the piece, Cinder’s step-mother Adri is written with a subtle hand – naturally, she’s not very nice but there is an undercurrent of hurt and betrayal that makes her more human than one would expect.
The plot of Cinder is well put together. Yes, there’s a ball involved but there is also so much more going on. There are various twists and turns along the way, none of which were particularly unpredictable but all of which were enjoyable. The world building is good with the writing visual enough that it’s easy to envision New Beijing in all it’s cyberpunk glory. There are also darker undertones to Cinder. The near segregation of Cyborgs, the plague that is ravishing the world and the political noose around the Emperors neck all overshadow the fairytale surrounding the titles central relationship, adding depth where needed.
Despite the more sinister aspects, Cinder is above all a hugely fun read that readers should be able to zip through pretty easily. The series is to continue with books based on Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White and if these are as well-paced, original and enjoyable as Cinder then the Lunar Chronicles are sure to be a success. Sci-fi in YA is often surrounded by gloomy portents regarding the future, or haunted by a miserable past – in Cinder these aspects are there but are balanced out by a story that skips along in a world that readers will want to explore again. Great stuff.
Cinder is available now. Thank you to the publisher for sending me this title to review.