Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder cover artCinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)

by Marissa Meyer

Concept: 5
Writing: 3
Character Development: 4
World-Building: 3
Plot: 4
Pacing: 4
Ending: 4
Cover Art: 4

I am one of those women who hates the Cinderella story. In most versions, working hard gets Cinderella nowhere, and if she weren’t so gosh-darn pretty and desperate enough to marry someone she didn’t know, she would die a servant to her step-family. What a strange message to send young girls. Also, what’s the deal with the Prince? Anyone else find it strange that he rejected every foreign noblewoman and then needed a shot at every woman in the kingdom before finally choosing a bride? Commitment issues, ladies. Commitment issues.

I picked up Cinder expecting more of the same. What I learned: You can’t judge a book by its source material.

Lihn Cinder isn’t covered in ashes, she’s covered in grease, and she likes it that way. She’s not her stepmother’s maid. She’s the most gifted mechanic in New Beijing. Unfortunately, every univ she makes goes to the stepmother who legally owns her. Cinder is a cyborg, as much a possession as any robot or android, even though she is only part machine and retains her humanity. Not only does the general population consider cyborgs second-class citizens, Cinder is legally bound to work for her stepmother and stepsisters until the day she dies.

Cinder is no Cinderella, though. She’s fed up with her lot in life and looking for a way to break free. In the meantime, her hands are rather full. First, handsome Prince Kaito, the man every girl in the city would give her right eye just to meet, shows up unannounced and asks her to fix his personal droid. As if his down-to-earth charm and the droid’s peculiar malfunction weren’t distracting enough, plague has hit New Beijing. Cinder’s gentle stepsister falls prey to it, and the spiteful actions of Cinder’s stepmother catapult Cinder into a dangerous situation. Meanwhile, Prince Kai has his own problems: The Queen of the Moon has come for a visit, and she intends to have his hand in marriage. With the power to hypnotize masses of earthlings to do her bidding, superior technology, and a sophisticated army at her command, the Queen is a very persuasive woman, but Kai distrusts her. He’s also nursing a crush on his new mechanic, unaware that she’s part machine herself. Can Cinder avoid the plague, save her stepsister’s life, evade the wrath of the Lunar queen, ditch her stepmother, save her country from a fatal alliance with the Moon, and tell Kai she’s a cyborg without losing him forever?

Despite the large number of plotlines, this story never bogged down or lost me, and that’s largely because Cinder is such a fun heroine. She’s bright, resourceful, unafraid to talk back, and handy with a socket wrench. Even though she is used to being used, she doesn’t take it lying down. At the same time, she has a very realistic vulnerability to her. She’s very conscious of the fact that she’s a cyborg and seen as less than human. I wanted her to just tell Kai she was part machine so he could tell her he didn’t care, but I also saw her side: Sure, he’s nice when he thinks she’s human, but who’s to say he wouldn’t be disgusted to find out she’s part machine?

Kai makes a wonderful Prince Charming. He’s got the traditional conflict between his country’s interests and his own constantly swirling in his head, but he’s a conscientious and responsible royal who knows he’s got to place his people first. He’s courteous, charming, and smart, even if the weight on his shoulders sometimes stalls his brain. In short, he’s the only person in the kingdom who should get to be Cinder’s fella.

I loved the supporting cast, especially Cinder’s sassy droid helper Iko, who’s much more forthcoming about Kai’s effect on her circuitry than Cinder. Meyer’s world puts strong women on both sides of the conflict, a very different take on the traditional story. The dialogue has great snap in some places, keeping the reader engaged.

My one complaint is New Beijing: while Cinder’s personal world, its inhabitants, and their technology is presented with clarity, and the political scene is explored, I was never able to effectively imagine New Beijing. The scene never really gels. The characters’ lives are detailed, but the world-building got left out in the cold. Hopefully Meyer will take up the slack in book two. I can’t wait!

Overall: 4

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends, $17.99 hardcover, ISBN 9780312641894

I received a copy of Cinder from Netgalley. No money changed hands in the course of this review.