December 7, 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Published: 2012, Feiwel and Friends
Series: Lunar Chronicles, #1
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction, Retelling
Source: Library book

"You are not human, Cinder. It's about time you realized that."

I don't know why I waited so very long before picking up Marissa Meyer's Cinder. It's a fairy-tale retelling. About Cinderella. It takes place on a future Earth. It has light science fiction elements. Cinder is a cyborg. And it has a gorgeous cover (sadly it has nothing to do with the book). Needless to say, there were many aspects that drew me into reading this book.

Sixteen-year-old Cinder is widely considered to be the most talented mechanic in New Beijing. But she also harbors a dark secret: due to a childhood accident and modern technologies, her body is no longer entirely human. True to its source, Cinder's adopted mother wants nothing to do with her. And there are worse dangers than simply being seen as an inferior, second-class citizen. In order to test potential cures for the plague that is ravaging the Earth, cyborgs are being drafted to act as experimental guinea pigs. When Cinder's youngest stepsister Peony is diagnosed with letumosis, Cinder's stepmother Adri volunteers Cinder for plague research.

At the same time, the political situation of the Eastern Commonwealth is in a precarious state indeed. The old emperor is dying from letumosis, and the young prince Kaito does not feel quite ready to step into his father's shoes. The Lunar Queen, leader of an alien race that lives on the moon, is also pushing Kai towards marriage and other proposals that will allow the Lunars to gain power on Earth. Kai, and indeed everyone else, does not trust these mysterious Lunars, who possess the ability to manipulate others' minds. But with so many social, economic, and political issues, they may not have much of a choice.

While being experimented on, Cinder finds out something extraordinary. Something that may turn the tide and influence her own fate, as well as the rest of the world.

Marissa Meyer uses a mix of the familiar fairy tale, along with her own innovative storytelling, to create a story that examines crucial questions of morality and humanity at its heart. With a cast of so many diverse characters humans, Lunars, cyborgs, and robots the question of humanity was constantly on my mind. Cinder herself is one third machine, so because machine parts are outweighed by her human, is she still human? Or since she has any machine parts, should that automatically make her inferior to someone who has not needed to replace any body parts? Meyer further complicates this question in relation to Cinder's friend/assistant Iko, who is a robot. And then of course all citizens of Earth feel the looming threat of the Lunars, who appear to be humanoid but have "magical" (Doctor Erland would classify it as the ability to manipulate bioelectric energy). Upon finishing the book, I still don't have an answer to any of these questions, but I do think that Meyer quite clearly illustrates that more is at stake in determining one's humanity than a certain DNA sequence or physical body parts.

While Cinder may not be my favorite Cinderella (that honor will always belong to Ella of Ella Enchanted), she's pretty high on my list. She really cannot be further distinguished from the stereotypical passive Cinderella. Her cyborg parts and her forgotten past have ensured that there's no place where Cinder really belongs. Each and every day Cinder deals with the knowledge that if people were to know of her machine parts, they'd consider her to be less human, less important. That fear of being exposed may cause Cinder to be a little brusque, a little sarcastic and distant, but, who can blame her? Cinder is introspective and self-sufficient, but even after her less than fair treatment, she remains consider of others. Meyer also makes sure to show Cinder's softer side through her relationships with her stepsister Peony and Iko.

I wasn't super crazy about the romantic relationship between Cinder and Kai. This is a "Cinderella" retelling, however, so everyone should assume that some sort of romance will develop between our heroine and the prince. Kai is very likable, but parts of his relationship with Cinder didn't seem quite organic. He became a little too trusting of her far too easily. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for Kai after witnessing how easily he places his trust in Cinder. He is definitely placed within the trickiest situation, not quite sure what to do or whom to trust. After the novel's final developments, I am curious to see how Cinder and Kai move forward with their relationship.

I know this book isn't perfect. I, like many other people, figured out the major twist very early on in the story. Meyer might have laid out the clues a little broadly, but in no way do I see that as something that detracts from the story itself. Since this is a "Cinderella" retelling, we readers have a pretty good understanding of certain other elements and plot points in the novel. Reading a story should not be about how easy or hard it is to anticipate things, nor should it be about how long it takes the protagonist to cotton on to certain messages. A story should always be about the character's journey. Over the relatively short time span of the novel, both Cinder and Kai must deal with startling revelations and uncomfortable truths. But I do think that the knowledge will help them become stronger and more realistic as the series continues. The worldbuilding also could have been better, but I felt that we are given just enough information to get by. More would have been nice, but there are three other books, so hopefully Meyer will have ample time to describe this new Earth that has been ravaged by wars, plague, and is under the threat of a Lunar invasion.

As much as I adore fairy-tale retellings, they tend to elicit extreme reactions from me, both positive and negative. I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed the experience of reading Cinder. Meyer does take many, many liberties in her retelling of "Cinderella," but those liberties kept the plot a little more inventive, the story a little fresher. Would Cinder have been as successful without the "Cinderella" tie-in, as first and foremost a story about cyborgs and humanity's battle with an alien race? I'm not sure. After reading Cinder, I am left wondering how Meyer will incorporate the "Snow White," "Rapunzel," and "Little Red Riding Hood" tales into the next three books. But this curiosity is one I am eager to have satiated.

I found Cinder to be a well-written and unique "Cinderella" story, taking the fairy tale's classical roots and adding many commentaries on prejudice and humanity that continued to resonate with me long after the story ended. There are small issues I had here and there, but the good overwhelmed my concerns. Fortunately I will not have long to wait before reading Meyer's sequel, Scarlet
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

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