She has grease stains on her face instead of ashes. She’s looking for the mechanical foot that fits her best. And she drives to the ball in a beat-up gasoline car instead of a magical pumpkin. Welcome to Marissa Meyer’s inventive re-imagining of Cinderella, the first of four books in the Lunar Chronicles.
I finally got around to reading Cinder, and I’m so glad I took time off from my scheduled review requests to do so. Cinder was everything I was expecting and more. Yes, I would say it exceeded my expectations. May I make a suggestion to all aspiring writers out there, including the ones who are self-publishing their books because they believe they can write: please read Cinder, for it is a perfect example of how a book should be written. Not only is it a bang-up story that will have you turning pages faster than a runaway hover craft, but it is perfectly written, perfectly paced, and packed with so much emotion and so many engaging characters that you will wonder where the time went. I flew through it in a couple of days, and it only took me that long because I had to stop and (reluctantly) feed my family.
When Cinder begins, World War IV is over, but the country of New Beijing is fighting a losing battle with a deadly plague. Cinder, a lower class citizen who is virtually the property of her stepmother Adri, is a cyborg mechanic who runs a repair stall in the town marketplace and also fixes everything mechanical that breaks down at home. Like Cinderella before her, she also has two step sisters. Pearl is mean and spiteful, but Peony is Cinder’s only human friend. Until one day Prince Kai himself, heir to the throne of New Beijing, comes to her stall to have his favorite android repaired. The prince is intrigued by Cinder’s secretive nature and her lack of interest in him. But although she is attracted to the prince, Cinder is afraid of Kai discovering her secret: that she is part machine. Indeed, her cyborg parts include a foot and a hand, which she covers up with a grease-stained glove.
When Peony contracts the dreaded letumosis plague, Adri forces Cinder to “volunteer” as a test subject to find a cure for the disease. At the medical center Cinder meets Dr. Erland, a kindly but determined old man whose task is to save the dying Emperor, Prince Kai’s father. In Dr. Erland’s medical facility, Cinder learns a horrifying truth about herself, giving her one more reason to avoid Prince Kai. As is the case with many of the characters, Dr. Erland has his own secrets, and although he seems suspicious at first, he later becomes Cinder’s trusted friend and ally. With the arrival of Queen Levana, the evil ruler of Luna, the future of New Beijing rests on a terrible decision that Kai must make, and more than one life hangs in the balance. Readers may be equally thrilled and frustrated by the ending, which comes all too soon.
Besides her creative take on the Cinderella story, Meyer fills her story with details that remind us that we are indeed in science fiction territory. For example, Cinder is programmed with an orange warning light that flashes at the corner of her vision whenever someone is lying to her, and her mechanical leg has a hinged door behind which Cinder stores her tools. One of my favorite characters in the book is Iko, Cinder’s wonderfully quirky android and constant companion.
I’m always grateful to writers who can surprise me, and Meyer surprised me throughout the entire book. She doesn’t go for the obvious happy ending, and for that she should be applauded. At the risk of giving too much away, there were many times during the story when she could have saved a beloved character, but didn’t. It is this bravery in part that elevates Cinder above the many other young adult fantasy books on the market today. When you read the final paragraph, just keep this in mind: luckily for us readers, Cinder’s story isn’t finished. The second book in the series, Scarlet, arrives in 2013.