Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Cinder is a great departure from the usual tropes and clichés. Meyer is to be admired and commended for coming up with this idea when everyone else is imitating the popular sellers like sheep. This is the way to go if you want to make a name in the YA market: cut loose from the pack and stride out there boldly making your own path - and either publish the darned thing yourself, or be lucky enough to find that rare agent/publisher with sufficient wherewithal to roll with it. Cinder is the first of four in "The Lunar Chronicles" series, all in the same universe, using other fairy-tale characters: Scarlet, based on Red Riding Hood, Cress, based on Rapunzel, and Winter, based on Snow White. Cinder is, of course, based on Cinderella. There's an interview with Meyer in USA Today
In several of her interviews, Meyer describes how she entered a writing contest. There were only two entrants and she came second! But her story of a sci-fi Puss in Boots was so much fun that she decided to write an entire series of such tales. Here's where I hate her! Just a month or two afterwards, she had the idea of Cinder the cyborg come to her as she was falling to sleep! She left her bed behind and started making notes, and now we have this masterpiece (at least that's how it's looking as far as I've read!). I am sooooo jealous! Well, it's a masterpiece with a few flaws, so lets get those out of the way!
It's hard to imagine a society as advanced as this one which doesn't have the technology to get some kind of handle on the plague. But we can let that go for the sake of a good story which this is, despite the blemishes. I can also let go that Prince Kaito is such a spineless little wuss, who dare not speak out plainly in the face of Queen Levana's disgraceful attitudes and behavior. There were a few author issues: Meyer doesn't seem to know the difference between 'splice' and 'split' or between 'treaty' and 'treatise', and unless the pool in the palace garden really was coquettish as opposed to being stocked with Cyprinus carpio haematopterus, then she doesn't know the difference between coy and Koi! I found a handful of errors of that nature, but not enough to be annoying.
It was while I was thinking about these things, that I found myself wondering why I do love this novel despite the flaws? Why do I really look forward to volume two of this quadrilogy, but I can't work up the enthusiasm to read the next volume which will follow The Darwin Elevator? I can't give you an answer to that, which bothers me a bit. It's just that I knows what I likes! If I force myself to answer, I think the main reason is that I connected with the main characters in this novel - with Cinder and Iko - whereas I felt no connection to anyone in Hough's novel. Perhaps that's the only "secret" of getting people to come back for more, even if it's more of the same in a different package. Not that I expect Meyer's series to be more of the same: she has four different novels, but all connected. I think that's part of Meyer's genius, which will put this series up there with the Hunger Games trilogy, and with Rowling's heptalogy. Bring on the movies!
Linh Cinder is a cyborg living on Earth in "New Beijing" (no word on what happened to the old one!) at a future unspecified date. So again, props to Meyer for not setting this in the USA. She did this because the original Cinderella story is Chinese - as far as scholars can tell (a kind of Mulan Rouge!). There is a rest of the world and all too many authors in the US completely forget this. The only problem here is that Meyer really doesn't make New Beijing sound like it's Chinese - it's more like Chinatown than China.
Cinder is "only" 63.72% human, and that is far more than enough for her to be treated as a third class citizen subject to the most shameful and egregious prejudice. Her own parents being dead, and Cinder being a cyborg, she's effectively owned by her stepmother, who disdains her in favor of her two 'real' daughters: Pearl hates Cinder just as much as her mother does, but the younger Peony loves Cinder like a sister. These girls are zero percent cyborg. Cinder became a cyborg after being injured in a rare hover-car accident. And if you believe that, I have some land in Florida for sale at an amazing price....
In the bigger world, there is a local monarch, Prince Kaito, who is rumored to be looking for a wife. His mother is dead, and his father is sick from Letumosis, an apparently viral disease which is contagious and 100% deadly. The prince is spearheading an effort to find a cure. In other news, Queen Levana is considered a potential candidate for the prince's hand. She's the head of the Lunar colony, a breed of human who are reputed to be evil and have psychic powers of control over others. Another name which is bandied about in this regard is...Princess Winter! We'll meet her in volume four.
Cinder gets a visit one day in her little mechanic's booth down in the market place. It’s embarrassing because she has just taken off her foot, expecting her family bot, Iko to be along shortly with a replacement. The visitor is Prince Kai who has brought his old and favorite android, Nainsi, to be fixed. His palace mechanics can’t do a thing with it and he's been told Cinder is the best. He jokes that it carries secret information which he must recover (shades of Star Wars! "Help me Obi Wan Lihn Cinder; you're my only hope!"), but Cinder's cybernetic implants can tell that he's lying. The prince doesn't realize that Cinder is a cyborg.
On a trip to the junk yard that night, to retrieve a replacement part to fix something which her hateful stepmother, Adri has demanded she fix, Cinder takes along her younger step sister at her request. As she's examining a beautiful old gasoline-powered vehicle, Cinder notes that Peony has the tell-tale blemishes of the Letumosis plague, the Blue Fever, and she's forced to call the medbots. They test Cinder and she is free of plague, but Peony is quickly spirited away to confinement in a hospital.
This is the last, and for Adri the longest, straw since she can now justify selling Cinder for medical research. Cinder is stunned - literally - and taken to a research facility where she's injected with the Blue Fever virus. This ends part one of the adventures of Cinder!
Part two reveals that Cinder is immune to the virus and she makes a deal with the rather suspicious Dr Erland to voluntarily help him with his research - and hopefully her young step sister, if he will pay her, but put the money into her own account so her stepmother cannot get her sticky fingers on it. Cinder plans on buying that old car from the junk yard, fixing it up, and taking off! I suspect that both the doctor and the prince have other ideas on that score.
The Queen of the Moon comes to Earth with the sole intention of mooning it! She's an obnoxious objectionable piece of substandard work who has no hesitation in controlling and manipulating anyone she chooses in order to get her way. She notes that Cinder is in the crowd outside the palace, not knowing who she is, but knowing she is a Lunar, and very soon, Cinder knows this too. Doc Erland tells her. The doc assures her she is and that she will in time develop her powers. Meanwhile she must stay away from Queen Levana - who for some reason abhors mirrors - because the Queen would kill her if she got chance. The reason Cinder was up the palace was to return Nainsi which she fixed by the simple act of removing an inappropriate chip from her. This chip is of Lunar origin, and is designed for direct communications, outside of the usual networks. Cinder hooks it up to a screen, but gets no response.
The Queen brings with her one vial of antidote enough for one adult, but the Doc splits one quarter of it for Cinder to give to her step sister. Unfortunately, Cinder gets there too late, and her sister dies in her arms. She gives the antidote to another child she knows, who, despite being taken ill earlier than Peony, somehow outlives her. He gets better and becomes a sensation. Cinder, meanwhile has taken the ID chip from her sister's wrist and is seen doing so and pursued by the authorities. She escapes, but Adri disowns her and takes her foot, in "payment" for the 600 univs which she appropriated to buy it. Cinder now has to limp around on crutches, but she limps all the way to the car she has rebuilt, intent upon leaving that very night.
While she's packing her things, the screen to which the comm chip is hooked beeps at her, and Cinder answers to discover she's talking to a girl about her own age, who has the most amazingly long hair. We'll meet her in Volume three. The girls warns her that Queen Levana is planning on marrying Kai, then killing him and using her foothold on earth to wage war on everyone, taking charge of the whole planet and bring it all under her thumb. So off goes Cinder to the rescue!
I've posted way too many spoilers here, so let's leave it at that with a recommendation for this novel as a highly worthy read.