Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

When Cinder arrived on our library shelves, I was undecided as to whether I would actually read it. After all, it was yet another take on the Cinderella fairytale. But putting aside the fact that I didn't like the cover of the book, I decided to give it a try and I'm very glad about that.

Cinder is a unique mash-up of fairytale and science fiction. In terms of science fiction this novel is a dystopia but there is also a flavour reminiscent of Star Wars which I will expand upon shortly. The fairytale is an underlying theme until the end of the book where it rears up in full force.

The story is set in post World War IV Earth, during which whole cities were been annihilated, including Beijing. Cinder is set specifically in New Beijing which is part of the Eastern Commonwealth, ruled by Emperor Rikan. Many generations ago, Earth colonized the moon. The descendants of the colonists became known as Lunars. Lunars are not considered human but a different race that is greedy and violent. This is partly due to the fact that they have developed the unique ability to manipulate what humans see and feel through the use of bioelectrical energy. For this reason, they can easily control humans and are considered very dangerous to "Earthens". However, not all Lunars have this ability and these are known as "shells".

Earth is experiencing a deadly plague called metumosis for which there is no cure. Anyone who becomes ill with the plague is automatically taken away and quarantined to die. Emperor Rikan is on his deathbed from metumosis and his son, Kai is poised to be named the new emperor. This occurs at the time that Emperor Rikan was attempting to negotiate a new alliance with the Lunars, possibly through the marriage of Prince Kai and the Lunar monarch, Queen Levana.  Queen Levana is cruel and manipulative and it is widely held that she murdered her sister to ascend the throne. Queen Levana is also believed to have murdered her niece, Princess Selene who was her only threat to rule. Because of her ability to control others, the Lunars have been unable to rise up against Queen Levana. Some Lunars have escaped to Earth and live as Earthens. This is the dsytopian world that Cinder lives in.

Linh Cinder is a cyborg and an extraordinary mechanic who runs her own repair booth at the nearby marketplace. Cinder's body was altered when she was eleven years old. She has a mechanical hand and foot, a heart that is partly silicon and her brain has computer software integrated into it. Cinder is ashamed that she is a cyborg.

Cinder lives with her guardian, Adri Linh, and her two stepsisters, Pearl and Peony, in New Beijing. Her stepmother is cruel to her and Cinder's only friend is Peony, whom she loves dearly. Similar to the Cinderella fairytale, Adri orders Cinder around, pushing her to do all the repairs. When they learn that there is to be a ball held by Prince Kai on the occasion of his coronation as Emperor, Pearl, Peony and Adri discuss dresses and shoes. But Adri makes it quite clear that Cinder will not be attending. She has too much to do and besides, why would an ugly cyborg want to attend anyway?

Because Cinder is well known for her mechanical abilities, Prince Kai shows up one day at her booth with a malfunctioning droid. They meet and are instantly attracted to one another. But Prince Kai is unaware that Cinder is a cyborg and Cinder knows she can never be with him.

When Peony sickens from the plague and is quarantined, Adri has Cinder sent to the research facility to be used as a test subject for a plague cure. It is during these tests at the research facility attached to the palace that Cinder is discovered by Dr. Erland, head of plague research, to have some remarkable qualities. When he questions her about her past life, all Cinder can remember is that she was injured in a hover accident and made into a cyborg. Dr. Erland promises Cinder that he will run tests to try to understand her situation better. The reader though, by this time should have a pretty good idea just who Cinder is, so that when Dr. Erland reveals to Cinder what he has learned about her, it really comes as no surprise.

Cinder also meets Kai again and he invites her to the coronation ball. Despite her repeated  refusals to attend, Kai continues to insist that she do so. Meanwhile Prince Kai must deal with the evil Queen Levana who has arrived on Earth for his coronation. Queen Levana continues to pressure Prince Kai into marriage by blackmail. Kai knows that if he marries her, his life will be over but that if he refuses, war with Lunar will ensue.

Pearl and Adri leave for the ball,  and Cinder is left at home to finish her mechanical chores. But instead of a fairy godmother showing up to provide a way to get there, Cinder learns some important information that makes it imperative that she attend and warn Prince Kai of a trap. The resulting confrontation places Cinder in great peril and brings the book to its climax.

Cinder was an imaginative start to what will be a four book series known as The Lunar Chronicles. While the plot is complicated but interesting, there are many similarities to the first Star Wars movie story line; a prince in distress with an android carrying a secret message that must be accessed and a young girl who has a knack for mechanics, adopted by people she hardly knows, drawn into a crisis of potential planetary war against a cruel dictator with special powers! All of this is superimposed on the Cinderella fairy tale, with its potential to be a love story.

Because there was so much to be developed in this first book, the setting of the dystopian worlds (two of them, Earth and Moon), the plot which is quite complicated, and introduction of many important characters, Cinder, is somewhat weak on depth of characterization but long on action and description.

However, it sets the stage well for the next book, which hopefully will let us see more about the complicated and conflicted characters both Kai and Cinder seem to be. This series promises either to be very very good, or a hot mess of characters and plot lines. Fans of twisted fairy tales will love Cinder!

I enjoyed this book and look forward to the next installment, Scarlet, in 2013. I for one, wish it were published sooner!

Book Details
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
New York: Macmillan (Feiwel and Friends Book)   2012
390 pp.

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