Another fairy tale-related book! I am a fiend and cannot be stopped.
One of the trickiest things about adapting a fairy tale is deciding how different it ought to be from the original. It has to be different enough to not be the actual fairy tale (in that case, all you've done is written is a fairy tale anthology), but it can't be too different, either--it calls into question why you even bothered using the fairy tale as a jumping point for your story or that you ran out of ideas and started pulling in a bunch of nonsensical ideas to give your retelling some "spice".
Cinder is an engaging story even if you know what's supposed to happen: of course there's a prince and a mean stepmother and a kind-hearted girl who slaves all day and loves the prince. But Meyer is able to so craftily blend what you know about the story with her science-fiction world. Set who knows how far into the future, it would appear that the entirety of Asia belongs to an empire known as the Eastern Commonwealth, a country being ravaged by a plague. Cinder is a cyborg citizen of the Commonwealth, a mechanic whose skill earns her the attention of Prince Kai, first in line to the throne (is that what it's called in an empire?) as his father grows closer and closer to death (himself a victim of the plague).
The prince requests her help repairing one of his androids and also invites her personally to the ball. Of course, Adri the wicked stepmother doesn't want her to go. Instead, she volunteers Cinder (who is technically her property because of her mechanical parts) to be a research subject in plague vaccination tests. That's where I'm going to cut off the plot summary because I don't want to reveal the whole story. It's worth reading.
Marissa Meyer walks a tricky tightrope in Cinder: working from the Cinderella story, one of the most familiar and overused tropes in storytelling, placing it in the context of a futuristic world with cyborgs, a lunar colony and more straddles the issue I proposed above--how different is she going to make the story without getting wacky? And I realize just how bonkers the description of the storyworld sounds. The best thing, then, about Meyer's debut is how effortlessly she makes it work.
The characters of this novel are fun and well-imagined. Often do I see Cinderella as a weak character who just does whatever anyone tells her and leaves her life to the hands of fate, but Cinder is not like this at all. She is sassy and smart and spunky, everything you might hope for in a postfeminist-world female protagonist. The storyworld is vivid and well-planned. One thing that often keeps me away from fantasy and science fiction is world-building, which is often so needlessly complex that I struggle to remember place and character names (yes, I am talking about The Lord of the Rings). Cinder is nothing like that--the world, slightly familiar and very obviously different, is an interesting one, one that draws me in enough to be excited for the other three books in The Lunar Chronicles.
My only complaint--and it's not a very big one--is the plot twist at the end of the novel. I got the feeling that it was supposed to shock and surprise me, but it didn't. This is a problem: your plot twist can't be foreseen from miles away (and I figured it out the first time it was alluded to) because it makes the payoff at the end less rewarding. But having guessed the twist early on did not ruin the book for me (I loved it despite my correct intuition).
Cinder is a delightful, imaginative take of fairy tales. Definitely a must-read for fans of science fiction, speculative fiction and (obviously) fairy tales, although if none of these are in your genres of interest, it couldn't hurt to take a step outside your comfort zone for Marissa Meyer's novel--it's certainly worth the risk.
My rating: 4.5/5
Cinder on Goodreads
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