Meg’s Advance Review of Cinder by Marissa Meyer
(Book One of the Lunar Chronicles)
Cinder is just about as schizophrenic as a book can get. As the story opens, the beginning reads like a checklist, making sure each Cinderella plot-point is whacked hard: Terrible stepmother? Check. Pumpkin-like car? Check. Not only that, each let’s-explain-the-world info-dump makes the foreshadowing so obvious it’s almost laughable.
And then, the magical halfway point happens, and the book veers from sort-of-silly-and-predictable romance and takes a hard right into thriller territory. Good thriller territory. From that point on, it is an absolute race to find the resolution on the final page.
(There isn’t one, by the way. This is this first in a quartet of books, and Marissa Meyer leaves a nice callback of a cliffhanger for the reader to stew on.)
I would wager a guess that the one aspect that holds Cinder back the most is its prime selling point: the plot is billed as a retelling of the classic Cinderella story set in a futuristic Beijing. The futuristic Bejing part is fun. Cinder, the main character, is a cyborg, which, in this universe, means she’s the scum of the Earth. But hey, at least she’s above the scum of the Moon, a now colonized planetoid. The setting is far enough in the future that Lunars have evolved special powers of mind-manipulation. Suffice it to say, everyone on Earth pretty much hates them.
The Cinderella part of the plot is completely unnecessary, however, especially as it’s ditched by the halfway point and only picked up again (very well, actually) near the very end. The book would have been much stronger had it compeltely left out the Cinderella bits and just let it be about a cyborg falling in love with a prince. Cinder was a case of doing a re-telling halfway rather than diving in whole hog. It makes the whole over-arching tone of the first half feel sloppy.
But even with my issues with the first 150 pages, I had no problems picking up the book and reading on. Meyer has a lovely narrative style and she’s created an intriguing character in Cinder. There were moments when the romance storyline could have taken a nosedive into Twilight territory, but she always reigned in it, giving us a heroine who is smart, funny, brave and more than a little awkward in a way that is positively endearing.
I also enjoyed the way the male lead was written. Prince Kai is poised to take over the ruling regime and instead of the current trend of down-with-government stories, Meyer presents us with a leader who is committed to do what is best for his people, to create a government that is determined to eradicate the threat of plagues (a real illness and then the plague that is the Lunar Queen). It was positively refreshing to read about a non-corrupt leader.
I have come all this way without talking about plot. To be honest, it’s a little difficult to be concise enough to not blow all the twists out of the water. A close reader will have figured out pretty much all (but one) out by the first 100 pages anyway, so let’s give it a shot: On the same day that the prince visits Cinder’s mechanics kiosk, her (not evil) stepsister falls victim to a plague that has no cure. When Cinder is enlisted (against her will) into the cyborg draft for plague experiments, she discovers that she is immune. But the immunity means she is still in grave danger, just not from the plague.
By the end of the book I was sorely disappointed that there was no sequel simply waiting for me. The final page sets up a Book 2 that is sure to further develop an already complex world—and to take us far, far away from any Cinderella pretense. Both of those things should make for a winner. So even though the beginning knocked this book down to a three-canary rating, I whole-hearted recommend Cinder to anyone who enjoys a good YA (or sci-fi/cyborg) read. Just be prepared to start pining for more as soon as you reach the back cover.
Cinder will hit bookstores January 3, 2012.