|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.
Cinder is one of the most enchanting novels I’ve read in 2012 (so far). Being a fan of Marissa Meyer’s fanfiction for years, I had known about the book for a while before it was published. But this didn’t actually prepare me for how much I loved the novel, or how much I wish I could experience reading it for the first time all over again.
As a child of the 90s, I grew up with fairy tales, mostly of the Disney variety. I can’t place exactly what it was that appealed to me about them then — that fascination with happy endings, the belief that a person can still live a meaningful and enjoyable life despite their wealth or social status, the idea that Prince Charmings do exist. In recent years, with Disney-Pixar’s new film, Brave and 2010’s Tangled, it is obvious that fairy tales and their retellings are popular for more than the pleasant lives, the princesses-in-need-of-rescue, and their heroic saviors. There is strength in these characters and hope in these stories, and retellings like Cinder continue to improve upon these tales, while still keeping their spirit alive.
Although Cinder is essentially a Cinderella retelling, the plot continuously amazed me. The qualities it shares with the fairy tale were relatively easy to foresee, but the overarching story — unique to Cinder — managed to take me by surprise. I found myself getting carried away by Cinder’s narrative, often forgetting that this was meant to be a tale re-imagined.
One of the things that stood out to me about this novel was its cast of stunning characters. This was the first book I’d read in a long time with characters who, even if they’d only made brief appearances, seemed completely three-dimensional. Cinder was sarcastic, witty, and completely logical. It was refreshing to see a protagonist who was neither a reckless action-seeker nor a flighty, damsel-in-distress. To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Cinderella in novels or films. Sure, most of them are nothing like Grimm’s, but in nearly all of the retellings I’ve encountered, she is helpless and personality-less, too perfect, too miserable, too lucky. In the few more recent retellings I’ve run into, she’s the exact opposite, trying too hard to turn into Katniss Everdeen, another extreme that seems forced and unfitting. Cinder, however, seemed to be a healthy balance of these two, almost defying her role as the classic Cinderella. She was intelligent, a (closet) romantic, a girl with strength and determination and principles and priorities. Her story wasn’t about waiting for the prince to come and save her (in fact, Prince Kai was more in need of saving than she is). It was about self-preservation, duty, loyalty, and a search for truth and independence. The only thing more I could have wished for in a heroine was at least some description of her appearance (aside from her one mechanical leg) — but only because I’m dying to sketch her!
As a character, Kai was truly a joy to read. I’m always critical of male leads, especially princes in fairytales, whose only jobs are to stand idly by and be handsome. Though Kai excels at the looking-handsome-even-when-merely-standing bit, I never felt like he fell into this role. From the first time he was introduced (at the very beginning of the book) to his final appearance, it was clear that there was more to Kai than his position as Prince of the Eastern Commonwealth. I enjoyed getting to know his many sides: the son, worried about his dying father; the prince, unprepared to ascend the throne; the boy who had fallen in love
and who is probably on the verge of a mental breakdown. Watching Kai attempt to deal with the plague, his father’s condition, and the fact that a cruel and manipulative queen was after his hand in marriage made me wish I could hug the poor boy until his troubles just went away. Even in the end, when I knew that he was only doing what he thought was right for his people and for peace, I couldn’t help but sympathize with him. (And of course, like Cinder, Levana, and the rest of the Commonwealth, I fell for him — hard.)
Cinder and Kai’s nature is the reason why their relationship is one of my favorite aspects of the novel. What is absolutely remarkable about Cinder is that, although it was inspired by Cinderella, the romance was never overwhelming. There were always more pressing things — the plague, the Queen, freedom — and neither Kai nor Cinder ever forgot their priorities (though they certainly struggle with them). I loved how believable it was. So many books these days are cluttered with characters who immediately fall in love, when there is no conceivable reason for the relationship to be that strong, that fast. It was wonderful to see two characters meet (through perfectly plausible circumstances) and feel only a little intrigued by each other, and nothing more. Until they met again and the intrigue deepened, gradually becoming attraction and possibly growing into Something More. I enjoyed seeing Cinder and Kai run into each other repeatedly, and I looked forward to their harmless flirtation. They developed a friendship of sorts, she was his mechanic, and he talked to her about his anxieties, but their relationship always stayed at that intrigue/attraction/caring/desire-to-pursue-and-take-further stage. They never treated it like it was anything else, and they never wholly depended upon each other for survival (they were still just getting to know each other). They also never once considered throwing their entire lives or duties away for each other, which, again, was like a breath of fresh air.
If I were to choose a word to describe this novel, it would be ‘imaginative’. Cinder took place in futuristic New Beijing, where the world had progressed so much that there were ID scanning chips attached to every citizen and people communicated instantaneously through comms. The technology in this novel was impressive, and I was constantly amazed by how detailed everything was. There were threats of interplanetary warfare, a race of people (creatures?) living on the moon, hovercrafts, cyborgs, and crazy/terrifying uncurable diseases… So many little things made up this world that I found myself wondering how long it took Marissa Meyer to figure it all out.
Though they creep me out, I am kind of, just a little, terribly in love with the Lunars and the lore surrounding them. I’m dying to know more about their history and relations with Earth, and I hope Book 2, Scarlet explores this on a deeper level. (I’d also love to know more about Cinder’s past.)
I thought it was fantastic that secondary and even tertiary characters (like Cinder’s step sisters Pearl and Peony, Iko, the baker who worked in the booth beside her, and the doctor she met in the palace) had so many dimensions to their personalities. They each had specific backgrounds, and nearly everyone I met in this book was somewhat memorable. (It was also awesome to see Cinder get along with one of her step sisters – I wasn’t expecting that, and their friendship ended up being one of my favorites.)
Is it strange that aside from the shoe, the carriage, and the step family, Cinder actually reminded me more of Anastasia than Cinderella?
I love that some of the traditional Chinese cultural traditions were still alive in high-tech China. It made the setting seem more real and easier to imagine, even if the world sounded nothing like our own.
I found one major twist incredibly predictable, mostly because I knew Marissa Meyer was a fan of the manga and anime, Sailor Moon. Readers familiar with the show or graphic novel will probably be able to recognize the work’s influence upon Cinder, but shouldn’t, in any way, think this makes the story less enjoyable.
Just a warning: the ending is completely torturous. I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did, and now I have no idea how I will manage to wait for the next book. I am dying to know what happens next!
Cinder is a clever, exciting, spellbinding read that will truly captivate its readers. Though it’s a fairytale retelling, lovers of strong protagonists, pretty-but-efficient princes, realistic relationships, exciting worlds, terrifying villains and science fiction (basically… everyone) will ravish it. (Stars, I loved this novel!)