Publication date: January 3, 2012
My rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
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.
I went about reading this book totally the wrong way, and it’s a testament to its awesomeness that I still loved it.
Here’s how it went. I got Cinder as an ARC at a YA book conference for teachers in 2010. I never got to it, but I shipped it back with a select few books because I thought it had a cool premise. When I became a blogger, I discovered that it had somehow become a huge book, and there was a sequel, and Marissa Meyer was coming to Toronto. So I read the first 50 pages on the subway on the way to the reading. I really enjoyed them, and I also loved hearing Marissa tell creepy fairy tales and about her love of Sailor Moon and Star Trek. I bought Scarlet, the second book, then promptly left both on my bookshelf.
|Marissa Meyer in Toronto in March 2013
Fast-forward to the end of the year, when I was book slumping. I pulled out Cinder, which had been on my TBR for 2-3 years now…and I started reading. I was completely pulled into the world. The same 50 pages really got me – the introduction to New Beijing, the futuristic world, and Cinder, a cyborg mechanic who is a second-class citizen in a world of humans. Even worse, she’s the ward of a lady who hates her, and she has two prettier, better human stepsisters. Cinder was supposedly brought over from Europe by her father, who subsequently died.
Cue the introduction of Prince Kai, the handsome heir to the throne whom all of New Beijing wants to marry, who brings his android to Cinder’s repair stall in the market. They have a little flirtation, and as the story goes on, they develop a friendship…and something more. But Cinder isn’t like all the other girls. She knows that Prince Kai won’t like her if he knows she’s a cyborg. So she hides it from him.For me, this was the only part of the book where I wasn’t quite invested. The romance felt a bit flat for me. I kind of didn’t see the chemistry between Cinder and Kai, and because of that, the climax of the book lost some of its impact.
That said, I did like Cinder, Kai and the other characters. Cinder is such an awesome role model for young girls: she’s not a priss, she’s not interested in being pretty. It’s actually the total opposite of what you’d expect from a Cinderella story. All Cinder wants is to get out from under her stepmother’s thumb and be self-sufficient. But the more she gets involved with Prince Kai and what’s going on in New Beijing, the less able she is to do that. That’s the other thing I loved about Cinder – even though she’s tough, she’s a girl with a lot of heart – and someone who really tries to take care of the people she loves.
For me, the key to Cinder lies in the world-building and the concept. It’s a retelling, so obviously, you know the story of Cinderella. But what really amazed me was just how much Meyer changed in the world while retaining the bones of the story. I was surprised by a lot of what happened, and how brilliantly smaller storylines tied into the overall thread of the plot, such as a deadly virus, an evil queen from another world, and the fight between science and magic. This is truly a layered, complex story and world…and easily, one of the most imaginative and best built worlds I’ve read in YA. I can totally see why this series inspires fangirling – the awesome world-building and mythology keep everything moving, and the masterful weaving of the source material with the futuristic world was really impressive.
Mood-Setting Through Writing: One of the things that made Cinder really special was how Meyer use symbols, metaphors and similes that really felt Asian to give more of the flavour of Beijing. For instance, right at the beginning of the book, when Cinder first meets Prince Kai, she’s tongue-ties, and Meyer describes her words as “sticking like bean paste to her tongue.” It’s little touches like this that really add to the atmosphere of the book.
Sailor Moon and Homages/References: You know how, when you watch a Quentin Tarantino movie (Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, etc), you notice that he has all of these references to westerns and Chinese and Japanese martial arts movies, but at the same time, he’s doing something really creative and new with those references? That is what Marissa Meyer does with Asian culture and Sailor Moon. Yeah. I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Marissa Meyer is the Tarantino of YA books. Boom. THIS is how you do an homage properly!
The Final Word:
For me, Cinder was very much a case where the world-building and the concept almost overpowered the character part of the book. I liked the characters, but I didn’t fall in love with them. Luckily, I totally fell in love with the world and mythology, so that part of the book really got to me, and definitely makes me want to move right onto reading the sequels, Scarlet
.Have you read Cinder or are you late to the party like me? Were you bigger into the world-building or the characters? Do you love retellings or do you prefer brand-new stories? Hit the comments and let me know!