Since its debut in 2012, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder has steadily gained popularity in schools and libraries and has even earned a spot on the New York Times bestseller list. When I finally read the novel—the first of The Lunar Chronicles series— it became clear how well deserved its popularity really is. The plot of Cinder is one to get almost any reader ready to fall in love: a sci-fi retelling of Cinderella where Cinderella is a cyborg and a deadly plague and even deadlier race of aliens threaten the kingdom? Color me unequivocally and genuinely surprised if the words “SOLD” don’t run through your mind once you hear that. Here’s a richer summary from the back of the book:
“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”
Fairy tales abound with the same sort of magic, wonder, and mystery so often engrained in stories of fantasy and science fiction. Meyer deftly weaves these classic elements with her futuristic world, playing homage to the original fairy tale subtly and with just the right amount of “Cinderella” moments. And like a good retelling should, she often invites us, rather than tells us, to find the fairy tale allusions and connections for ourselves.
One of the great things about Cinder however, is how well it stands on its own without one ever having heard of the original fairy tale (not that anyone hasn’t ever heard of Cinderella while over 200 variants from around the world exist). While the novel’s characters and world are not overly detailed in any way, they don’t exactly need to be. They are developed and thought-out and we are able to easily understand and fall into this world. Characterization is especially done wonderfully, with Cinder as a refreshingly likable YA protagonist. More often than not, the desperate, love struck Bella Swan and the cold, distant Katniss Everdeen dominate the spectrum of young adult heroines. But Cinder is both skilled and astute, aware of her growing affection for prince Kai, but practical and intelligent about what she does with those feelings.
The writing itself is also done well. Important events and information about the world are brought to our attention without being so laden with detail that they feel heavy or so infrequent that they feel jarring. Although Meyer offers little in the way of beautifully crafted sentences or metaphors, her writing is great in that it sort of remains in background, which is exactly what you need sometimes. A task made doubly difficult when the author is writing and adapting a story that is a story everybody already knows. But Meyer’s narrator never takes over the scene, allowing us the freedom to actually breathe in the world, characters, and story.
Cinder isn’t exactly a difficult, unpredictable, or life changing sort of novel, but it is good. And fun. And in a world where fairy tale retellings dominate our bookshelves, televisions, and movie screens, Cinder (and I suspect Meyer’s whole four part Lunar Chronicles) earns its place as a new and exciting addition to your wonderfully unceasing “to-read” pile of books.
You can read the first chapter of Cinder and learn more about the Lunar Chronicles from Marissa Meyer right here.