cinder // book review

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

★★★★★ 5 STARS

Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.

[mild spoilers below!]

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If you’ve ever wondered about what a cyborg, futuristic Cinderella retelling might be like then you need to look no further. Cinder, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles is a refreshing spin on a cultural classic that is sure to stun.

“She was a cyborg, and she would never go to a ball.”

The story opens with Linh Cinder, a cyborg-human hybrid living in New Beijing with her stepmother and two stepsisters. Being part cyborg makes her a second-class citizen so to earn her keep within the family she works tirelessly as a mechanic in the marketplace, often with the help of the family android, Iko, and occasionally her sister Peony. When a plague attack breaks out across the market square we become aware that this civilisation is ravaged by an incurable, highly contagious disease. Except – perhaps there is a cure, but what that would cost may not be something Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth’s throne, is willing to pay.

Given this is a retelling of Cinderella I knew romance and the relationship between Cinder and the prince would play a huge part in the story. I wasn’t disappointed and yet I also found the way Meyer developed their entanglement to be a refreshing step away from insta-love. I won’t deny that the two don’t know each other overly well when they’re willing to give up almost everything for each other but the way they read never once feels like they are being forced together. It’s organic, and flows, and made my heart explode with emotion. I warn you now – this is no happily ever after. It doesn’t end that easy, I’m afraid. There are trials and tribulations both characters must overcome if they ever hope to be together. And even that, in itself, may be an impossibility. The weight of the Eastern Commonwealth, and indeed the whole planet, weighs down on Kai’s shoulders.

“‘You yourself said there will be horrible consequences if she doesn’t get what she wants. I am not worth starting a war over.’

His eyes brightened behind the spectacles. He looked young for a moment, almost giddy. ‘Actually, you are.'”

The complexity Cinder’s character is given is amazing. She’s a woven, haphazard mess of cyborg and haunted past with one of the most interesting back stories I’ve read in YA fantasy/sci-fi in a while. And better yet it always leaves you guessing. Cinder doesn’t tie up Cinder’s story as it delves into darker territory towards the end of the novel. As she discovers the secrets of her past that have led her to become the unwanted adopted daughter of Linh Adri revelations unravel.

In particular I love the diversity Meyer gives this series. Whilst (and correct me if I’m wrong) Cinder has an undetermined ethnicity, presumably almost all of the other characters are Asian. Given the story is set within this area of the world it’s a given. Meyer doesn’t conform to ‘here’s a white main character be happy’ but gives a wider, diverse series of characters to her readership. And it’s great! Not only that but I think minority issues are really well represented in the treatment of cyborgs. They’re seen as inferior to humans in every regard, are typically viewed as property, and are entered into a Hunger Games-esque sweepstake where their names are drawn out one by one to be ‘volunteered’ for scientific research to help find a cure for this horrid plague.

“She kept her head high, even as her eyes stung, even as panic filled her vision with warnings and precautions. It was not her fault he had liked her. It was not her fault she was cyborg. She would not apologize.”

The story not only follows Cinder’s point of view, though. Prince Kai deals with a lot of his own issues as Queen Levana of Luna, the distant moon, moves in to take advantage of his inexperience and grief in the wake of the death of the Emperor to the plague. She has been in long communications with Earth to settle their disputes: in return for signing the peace treaty and giving Earth their long-awaited cure, she wishes to marry into leadership and become the Empress of the Eastern Commonwealth. Except conspiracy is rife down on Earth and Kai is at the centre of it in his search for the missing princess Selene who, whilst being burnt to death by the hands of Levana, is thought to still be alive, smuggled down to Earth to assume a new identity.

With scheming royalty, gifted mechanics, cyborg parts, and the brewing animosity between Luna and Earth, Cinder keeps you guessing at every opportunity. Even though you might think you know the way this story goes, the twists and turns keep the plot fresh. This book can be nothing other than 5 stars worth of perfection with amazing characters, well-fleshed, thoughtful plot, and a multitude of questions left making me pine to continue the series. Where oh where will Cinder’s story take us?

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