Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a retelling of the Cinderella story with a YA/cyberpunk twist. And it’s a pretty good retelling at that. I just think it would have been a better story if it didn’t try so hard to be sure it stepped on each and every base on its way around the story.
Cinderella is always a second-class citizen. In Meyer’s variation, Cinder is second-class because she is a cyborg. Cyborgs are considered less-than-human by those who have been fortunate enough not to have lived through catastrophic accidents such as the one that cost Cinder her hand and her foot at age 11.
But Cinder does not remember the traumatic accident, or anything about her early life. And the man who might have told her is dead. Linh Garan adopted her and left her in the care of his wife Adra just before his death. Garan was an inventor; he liked to tinker with things. He may have adopted Cinder to tinker with. He might have done something to her internal processes. But no one knows, least of all Cinder.
Adra hates and resents Cinder, while at the same time greedily taking every credit that Cinder earns as a gifted mechanic. Adra is entitled to retain all of Cinder’s earnings, forever. Adra is Cinder’s guardian, and Cinder’s earnings are the only thing keeping the household out of the poorhouse. The household, of course, contains not only the nasty stepmother Adra, but Cinder’s stepsisters, Peony and Pearl.
This Cinderella tale has been transplanted in time and place. We are still on Earth, but it is a future, post-apocalyptic Earth, after a dreadful Fourth World War first devastated, then finally united humanity under an Imperial Commonwealth. Cinder lives in the Eastern Commonwealth capital of New Beijing. The moon was not just settled, but broke away from the Earth pre-WWIV and created its own government. The Lunars have become not just a separate government, but in some ways, a separate race, because they have the capacity to manipulate bio-electric energy to a point that seems like magic. It’s a LOT like the Force in Star Wars, and too many of the Lunars mostly act like the Sith. The Lunar Queen and Emperor Palpatine would probably have a lot in common, if they didn’t try to kill each other on sight.
Prince Kai brings his personal android to Cinder at her stall in the market to repair. He says it’s because it was his teaching android when he was growing up, and he’s emotionally attached to it.
Cinder, who shouldn’t have the neural circuitry to swoon, practically swoons over Prince Kai. She is able to suppress her reaction. What she isn’t able to suppress is her knowledge that he is lying. There is something important about the little android, and it isn’t merely an emotional attachment.
Kai lets something slip, he is doing research on leutmosis, the deadly plague that is sweeping the world. It is 100% fatal. Cinder wonders if his android contains some of his research.
The research that Kai might or might not be conducting becomes even more important to Cinder when her stepsister Peony contracts the deadly plague. Peony was the only person who truly cared for Cinder, and now she is gone. And in her rage, Adra signs Cinder over the government as a test subject. Cinder, as a cyborg, has no rights at all.
Once Cinder is tested, the truth of her origins begins to be revealed, not to Cinder, but to others who have been searching for her desperately. Nothing in her life has been as it has seemed.
But Cinder is going to the ball.
Escape Rating B-: The cover of this book is awesome. The book has its moments but I figured out the big reveal very, very early on. It’s better if the surprise remains a surprise as long as possible. Instead, everything was telegraphed miles ahead of time.
I loved the scene where Cinder drives to the ball and shows up in all her grease-stained glory to try to rescue Kai, but I saw it coming miles away.
And, as many other reviewers have noted, what does Kai look like? He’s never described. Ever. There’s a rule somewhere that all brides are, by definition, beautiful. Is there a corollary that all princes are handsome? Therefore there’s no requirement that they be described? Is he blond? Does he have black hair? Brown eyes? Blue eyes? Swoon-worthy is just not a sufficient description.
And I still want to find out what happens next. I want to see that Lunar Queen get what she deserves. Ring-side seats for that show would be very nice indeed.