Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Ugh, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck. Sorry, sorry, sorry for my extreme suckitude.
Now that that’s out of the way, I swear I am getting back on track with the posting of these. I swear. Anyway, self-degradation done, onto the review.
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: 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.
Type of Adaptation: Futuristic retelling
So, when picking the novels for the month, I really wanted to have at least one with a vastly different setting than vaguely medieval fairy tale land. And with Cinder, I certainly hit that mark.
To start with, let’s place this novel. Our story begins an indeterminate amount of time into Earth’s future, but it’s long enough that the fourth world war is about 150 years in the past and the moon has been colonized long enough that the people there have basically evolved into their own species. So, a while.
Our protagonist, Cinder, is a teenage girl who happens to be the best mechanic in the city, largely because she’s had lots of experience in the field, given that she happens to be a cyborg. She is about 36% machine, as a matter of fact, including her left leg and arm and most of her nervous system. She can’t afford skin grafts to cover her cyborg parts, so she hides them as best she can, behind heavy gloves and long overalls, but they’re always there.
The attitude of this world toward cyborgs is made pretty clear – they’re basically considered second class people, despite the fact that they are, in many cases, people who just had a robotic limb attached after an accident or something similar. Cinder is unusual in her percentage. Most cyborgs are only 5-10% machine.
And what I love about Cinder is that she is still thoroughly human. She has implants controlling her circulation and respiratory system and her chemical releases, but her mind is thoroughly human, and she has control over herself in all but the direst cases.
We start symbolically of Cinderella, watching Cinder replace her too-small robotic foot with one that is actually made for someone her size and not an eleven-year-old, which she was when she was in the accident that killed her parents and nearly killed her.
It’s the atmosphere surrounding Cinder that clues us into the relations of humans toward cyborgs, rather than any exposition, which I appreciate. The exposition we do get is to fill us in on how Cinder is Cinderella, and who her family is.
It turns out, the repair booth she runs in the market belongs to her stepmother and legal guardian, as does all of the money made from Cinder’s work. Cinder’s stepmother Adri inherited Cinder when her husband died, but that husband was not Cinder’s father. He was just a man who had adopted a cyborg orphan from an orphanage for reasons he never made clear to his wife before dying, so now Adri’s stuck with her.
Being a cyborg, and underage, Cinder lacks rights; she is legally owned by Adri, and on top of that, she has no money to speak of. She had to pay for her new foot by sneaking it into another shipment of parts to keep Adri from finding out.
So we learn all this at the start of things, and then a stranger arrives at the booth, with a malfunctioning android that needs to be fixed. Turns out the young stranger is, in fact, Prince Kai, and though he tells Cinder he needs the android for sentimental reasons, her cyborg readout lets her know that he is lying (a handy little tool). But he’s the prince, and she’s a cyborg (though he doesn’t know that), so she doesn’t press him.
He leaves the android with her and heads off, and shortly after he does, a plague outbreak happens in the middle of the market.
Because in this futuristic world with five major Earthen empires and pretty solid world peace, the biggest threat to Earth (apart from Lunar, the moon country that is apparently crazy and magical) is letumosis, a serious plague without cure or antidote, that passes in an unknown way from person to person. They’ve gotten good at shutting down outbreaks, but hundreds of people are still dying every day.
Cinder makes it home from the market, lying to her stepmother about how close it was to their booth. She finds Adri and Pearl, her older stepsister, completely engrossed in news about the upcoming Festival, which is being held despite the fact that the emperor is sick with letumosis. Adri is spending an insane amount of money on dresses for her girls, and true to the Grimm version of the tale, she promises Cinder that she can go if she completes all her chores.
Cinder sees through this lie, knowing that Adri will never run out of chores for her to do, but that’s okay, since she doesn’t really have any interest in going to the ball anyway. Or at least that’s what she tells Peony, the nice stepsister she’s actually friends with, another throwback to the Grimm version of this tale. But the truth is, well, the truth is complicated.
And it gets further complicated when Cinder allows Peony to come along with her to a junkyard to look for parts to fix the hovercar. In the junkyard, she stumbles onto a very, very old car that, as she discovers on closer inspection, isn’t a hovercar at all, but a gasoline car, which fell out of use decades ago. It’s a hideous orange and is described as reminding Cinder of a rotting pumpkin (a description which made me smile), and it’s currently inhabited by rats, but it’s presence sparks an idea in Cinder. That maybe, she can try and fix it up in her spare time, and maybe someday she can escape.
But reality is brought crashing back down when Peony starts to display plague symptoms. Cinder has to report her; if she doesn’t, Peony will infect hundreds. But it’s still the hardest thing Cinder has had to do. And she is fully expecting to be hauled away along with her by the med-droids, but they test her blood and declare her clean, despite the fact that she has been right next to Peony all day.
Cinder rushes home to tell Adri, but Adri already knows. The house is full of med-droids, and Adri is blaming Cinder. It isn’t Cinder’s fault, but that’s never stopped Adri before, and this time, Adri is entirely done. Cinder has become more trouble than she’s worth, so Adri has volunteered her to be a test subject for a letumosis cure – something that cyborgs never return from. Cinder does not go quietly.
We alternate throughout the book between Cinder and Prince Kai, and through Prince Kai, we get the world politics, which I won’t get too far into, as they’re less about Cinderella and more about setting up the world and the sequels which are to come. But we do know that the Eastern Empire is in trouble. The emperor is sick with letumosis and has days to live. Kai is going to be emperor very soon unless a cure is found. He’s seventeen, watching his father die, and having to prepare to inherit all the troubles of his empire. Also, he just met a girl he can’t get out of his head.
We get a background for the Lunar queen during Kai’s sections as well, and it’s clear that she is a nasty piece of work. We learn that she killed her sister for her throne, forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face so she wouldn’t grow to be prettier than the queen, and burned her niece, the rightful heir, to death. Though there are conspiracy theorists who believe the young princess might still be alive.
And that was the point where I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Because when you have an orphaned main character and a supposedly killed rightful heir to a throne, there’s usually only one way that ends, and I really didn’t want the novel to go that route, but unfortunately, what I saw coming a mile away was, in fact, the “plot twist” – Cinder is actually the super secret princess in disguise, and she doesn’t even know it!!!
And don’t get me wrong, this is still a good novel that I enjoyed. I was just a bit disappointed that Meyer went the cliched orphaned princess route in the end. But let’s just continue.
Anyway, the Queen is just a nasty woman, and she wants to be an Earthen empress. She was trying to get the old emperor to agree to marry her, but now that he’s dying, she’ll settle for Kai, whether Kai wants it or not.
Back to Cinder, she’s being treated a bit differently from the other cyborg plague test subjects, largely because she is apparently immune to letumosis, which is unheard of. She hears from the healer in charge that the only people ever known to be immune are Lunars, and it’s his suspicion that she is a Lunar refugee with a stolen ID chip implanted in her when she became a cyborg.
Cinder really doesn’t want this to be true, especially given that Lunars are hated even more than cyborgs because they have the ability to manipulate a person’s bioelectric energy, essentially brainwashing people into believing whatever they want. Queen Levana can do it; it’s how she controls all the Lunars and why everyone on Earth is afraid of her.
So for Cinder to be both a cyborg and Lunar paints basically the worst possible future ever.
And it doesn’t help that Kai knows neither of these things, is fixated on her, and keeps trying to convince her to go to the ball with him. If he has a personal guest, then Queen Levana, who is coming to Earth for a “diplomatic” visit, might be staved off.
But the healer who knows she’s Lunar and cyborg (and is a super good guy for helping keep these things from Kai), warns her that Levana cannot know she is here. Levana will recognize another Lunar, and things will be bad.
Obviously, though, for the sake of story, she has to be noticed, and noticed she is, when dropping off the Prince’s newly fixed android. The droid was purposefully corrupted so that some unknown someone could tap into what Kai was investigating, which happened to be the rumors that the Lunar princess is alive somewhere.
Moving along and skipping all the politic stuff to get to the Cinderella stuff, both the emperor and Peony die from the plague, despite Cinder’s blood being used to try and create an antidote. Unbeknownst to Adri, Cinder has been getting paid for the use of her blood into a secret, separate account, and she has been using the money to fix up the car in the junkyard and buy gasoline for it. Her plan is to run on the night of the Festival, escape to Europe and start a new life for herself.
But then she intercepts a message meant for Kai from the Lunar surface - a warning. Queen Levana knows the research he’s been doing. He has to be warned, so he can protect himself, and Cinder is the only one who can get the message to him – at the festival.
Luckily, she has the gown Peony was going to wear, and silk gloves that were given to her by Kai in case she changed her mind about the ball, and even though both are stained and wrinkled and smudged, they’re all she has, and they’re better than showing up in her mechanics close.
She’s also walking on the too-small foot once more because Adri made her give up her new one when she discovered Cinder had bought it without approval. But none of that can be helped.
And she’s panicking a bit because her ID chip probably isn’t going to scan her into the ball, and she’s thinking fast to find an excuse that will get her through the gate, but it turns out Kai put her on the list as his personal guest, just in case, so she makes it through the doors. And then she’s announced, which was not part of her plan.
Kai is at her side in an instant, thrilled to see her – until he hears what she has to say. But before he can be convinced, Levana is there, exposing Cinder as a Lunar fugitive and a cyborg, and when Cinder’s too small foot is wrenched off, she can’t exactly deny it. And the reaction is just what she expected. Kai is confused and hurt, but it’s Levana who forces him to do what happens next.
Housing a Lunar fugitive is grounds for war, and unless Kai agrees to have Cinder executed, the Lunar army will attack. So he has no choice. She’s taken away to the dungeon, and we end this book with the healer, who visits Cinder, reveals that he, also, is a Lunar fugitive, and that she, surprise surprise, is the long lost princess, and that she must escape the dungeon at all costs.
We’re setting up a sequel here, so that’s where we end.
Though I am disappointed by the predictable plot twist, I did enjoy this story, and the reworking of Cinderella into a futuristic, sci-fi setting. It reminded me a lot of Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn, which does a similar thing with Jane Eyre. But this is a unique reimagining of a classic tale, and that’s hard to do these days. So let’s look at the checklist.
Give Cinderella some control of her own destiny? Entirely. Cinder is constantly arguing and making her own choices, putting her foot down, and doing everything in her power to negotiate and control her own life. She doesn’t always succeed, but she sure as hell tries.
Enhance the role of the prince? I love Kai because his issues and struggles feel so real. He’s in a dangerous place, and while he knows it, he still is only 17, and that is balanced very well. His lot is entirely unfair and he knows it, but there’s little he can do about it. He’s flawed, but a great character all the same, and I like that he falls for Cinder slowly and for more than just her looks. In the end, he doesn’t reject and imprison her because she’s a cyborg and a Lunar. He doesn’t have a choice, which she recognizes, and he’s more hurt that she didn’t feel she could trust him with the truth, and that was lovely to read.
Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.
Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly? He doesn’t. He’s dead. And he wasn’t her dad in the first place. Rather, he was the first person to identify Cinder as the lost princess, and he was protecting her the only way he could.
Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly? She tries, holy hell does she try. But she’s fighting an unfair system every step of the way, and it’s stronger than she is.
Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? There is no FG as such; rather, Cinder is in charge of her own future, getting to the ball with transportation and gown under her own power. The Healer is the closest to a FG that we get, and once he finds Cinder, he helps as much as he’s able without getting caught himself.
Anybody going to question glass slippers? No glass slippers, just a too-small cybernetic foot.
Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? See above.
Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? The foot less identifies Cinder as Cinder and more serves as proof that she’s a cyborg, but I have a feeling it’s going to become more important in the sequel. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait til next month to see.
There will be another review posted today because I swear I am getting back on track. I swear!