My Rating: 2.5/5 stars
I’m a bit late to this series, but only because of other wonderful distractions of the bookish variety.
“Even in the Future the Story Begins with Once Upon a Time.”
Cinder is the first of four in Marissa Meyer’s highly-acclaimed series the Lunar Chronicles. To my knowledge, each book stars a different main character that is loosely based on classic fairy tales. Cinder, as I am sure you can guess, is an innovative, loose retelling of Cinderella.
At the mere age of sixteen, Linh Cinder is an accomplished mechanic living in New Beijing–set far in the future of an alternate world that is just brimming with advanced technology.
If it weren’t for her lucrative skills, Cinder’s stepmother, Adri, would have abandoned her long ago. Instead, she keeps Cinder around to provide their family with the income from her market booth, which goes directly into Adri’s bank account. In addition to having no access to her own money, she must submit to every demand her stepmother makes–no matter how absurd or unnecessary.
Furthermore, Adri sees no reason to love or treat Cinder–the adopted daughter of her late husband–the same as her own perfect biological daughters, Pearl and Peony. After all, Cinder also just so happens to be cyborg. And for reasons that the book fails to delve into more, cyborgs are viewed as inhuman and a blemish on society.
“Do your kind even know what love is? Can you feel anything at all, or is it just… programmed?”
In this alternate world, the only kind more despised than cyborgs are the Lunars–a race of people who inhabit the moon. Especially loathed is Queen Levana, who is currently in the midst of obtaining a political alliance with New Beijing through marriage. The people’s hatred of Levana does not go unfounded; she is rumored to have murdered her sister and niece in order to get to the throne. It is also suspected that she–through her gift of mind-manipulation that most Lunars are born with–has brainwashed her citizens into supporting her.
But back to Cinder. Two life-changing events happen on our first day in Cinder’s life:
- The first is when an unexpected customer shows up Cinder’s market stall. The visitor is, of course, none other than the charming Crown Prince of New Beijing–Kai. He comes with the hope that Cinder can repair his android. But the Prince could easily replace this outdated android with any of his choosing, so why go through the trouble of fixing her? Well, he claims the android merely has nostalgic value to him. But one advantage of being cyborg is the ability to distinguish fact from fiction–truth from lie. Through this, Cinder is aware that Kai is lying: the android might, in fact, hold information that could be a matter of national security.
- The second is that Peony, Cinder’s only ally in her family, falls victim to letumosis–a plague that has rapidly become an epidemic in New Beijing. With no cure in sight, its victims are quickly taken away and quarantined until their eminent demise.
These two events shape the rest of Cinder’s journey throughout the novel.
For a book with such an original, creative re-imagining of a classic story, it sadly fell short of my expectations.
I started out really enjoying Cinder as a character. I admired her strength and ability to deflect her family’s negativity and to focus on what she needed to do to survive. I enjoyed her relationship with Iko, the android who sometimes thinks she’s human, and at first even appreciated her relationship with Peony. But Peony quickly became just a plot point, and their relationship, therefore, unbelievable.
Then, a lot of choices that Cinder made irritated me to no end, preventing me from being able to continue liking her. She really needed to get her priorities in order. Like, if the leader of my country specifically sought me out to repair something for him–something that might very well be a matter of national security–that would be at the absolute top of my list. I wouldn’t waste a single second; I’d have that puppy opened and ready to examine ASAP. But Cinder? Nope.
It’s true that if she had examined it earlier, it would have ruined what little plot and “suspense” there was, but here is where good writing should have come into play. The reasons that Cinder had to keep putting off an inspection of the android were trivial and, here’s that word again, unbelievable. Meyer easily could have come up with some better excuses–I sure did after thinking on it–and I would’ve been much happier for it.
*possible spoiler here>* It was especially irritating when Cinder does finally examine the android and uncovers the problem in one glance. *rolls eyes* It also seems highly unbelievable that none of the mechanics in the palace recognized it, because, heck, I could have figured it out.
I know I’m spending a lot of time complaining about this one issue, but this “one issue” is half the book. Which brings me to my second issue. Nothing really happens in Cinder. It feels as if the book’s purpose was to say, “here is a taste of this inventive, new sci-fi/fantasy world and its inhabitants, so stay tuned hopefully for a plot in the next book.” It honestly feels like one of those brief, optional novellas that give us a taste of a character’s backstory, except in this case it’s a full-length novel that we didn’t really ask for or need.
In terms of plot, I actually felt somewhat the same when I was reading Heartless. It seemed like Meyer didn’t exactly know where the story was going, or that she did, but she didn’t know how to get us there with our interest still intact.
My last issue with Cinder is that Meyer missed a huge opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, it is apparent that cyborgs are despised and shunned by society, but the book never really gets into why. I mean, I personally think cyborgs would be incredibly helpful in society; they’re basically humans that have been given an upgrade. And they have been given a second chance at life, so why punish them for it? Or if someone willingly became one, what’s so wrong with that? I was simply expecting to see the logic behind it–more thought, more debate, more conflicting viewpoints, more questioning–not just unfounded disgust.
And in general, I just expected to see more introspection from Cinder. I mean being cyborg, adopted, her family’s abuse, a missing past, where she fits in the world, her hopes and dreams for when she was finally free of Adri–her thoughts and experiences on these easily could have bumped my rating up a star.
Mostly, I think Cinder relies heavily on the hope that the many “reveals” will shock and grab readers’ attention, but as you can probably tell by the quotation marks, anyone can see the so-called “reveals” coming a mile away.
I do hate to be so negative though. I’m just disappointed; I really wanted to like this book, because, come on, a cyborg Cinderella retelling set in futuristic China. Elements that nobody would think to combine. Anyone who can come up with that has the makings of a great storyteller. In this era, filled with reboots and remakes, something this original should be treasured.
I’ve also heard many say that as they progressed through the series, the plot evolved, more likable characters joined the cast, and even Cinder grew on them, so I am truly hoping that will be the case for me.
Conclusion: Predictable, slow, and not as thought-provoking as I had hoped, this was a weak start to the Lunar Chronicles, but I do plan on continuing it. Hopefully, with each installment Meyer’s writing skills will have improved. I did, after all, enjoy her most recent release, Heartless.
You can find my review of Marissa’s standalone Heartless here.
Update: I actually just checked out Scarlet from my local library, so fingers crossed. 🤞