I picked this book up because of the cover, and because I love fairy-tale re-tellings. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found once I started reading, and pretty soon I couldn’t put the fool thing down.
Cinder is a sci-fi re-telling of Cinderella. It has cyborgs, moon-people, and a plague that is devastating the Earth’s population. Our protagonist is Linh Cinder, an orphan and cyborg, who is a mechanic in New Beijing a long ways into Earth’s future. The basic bones of the traditional Cinderella story are here: dead father (in this case, adopted father), “evil” step-mother and step-sister, a handsome prince, a ball, and there’s even a thing with her foot, although it’s not what you’d expect. There’s also a ton of stuff in here mined from Meyer’s imagination (and inspired by her favorite things, judging by the globalized China setting, one of which is obviously Firefly). Notably lacking? A fairy godmother. Cinder doesn’t have a fairy godmother because she doesn’t need one. She’s kind of a badass.
There were a lot of things I loved about this book. I loved Cinder herself. (Come on, Cinderella as a cyborg? How cool is that?) Obviously I’m a big fan of the whole moon people concept (even if it does need some development), and the plague that is plaguing Earthens (as differentiated from the moon people, who are called ‘Lunars,’ which is a less cool name than ‘Moon People,’ but that’s just like, my opinion, man) is genuinely terrifying. I like that the plague is not some vague concept. It affects Cinder’s life and her family and friends in awful ways that we see firsthand through her eyes. (I don’t want to get more detailed than that.) I really liked Dr. Edlund, the man in charge of finding a cure for the plague. He’s crotchety and complicated. I also really, really liked Cinder’s tiny android Iko, with the funky personality. I also think that Earth vs. Moon is a great structure for a book series, and the next four books have the potential to be awesome.
But as much as the story benefits from the Cinderella framework, at points Meyer’s narrative seems tied down by the concept. I’m excited to see what she can do with this world she’s created now that she’s got the fairy-tale conceit out of the way (spoiler alert: pretty much all of the Cinderella narrative, except for the happy ending, occurs in this book, which is the first of four planned volumes in The Lunar Chronicles). I want to see more depth to New Beijing and its citizens, more world-building, more character work. I assumed while reading the book that all of this stuff would be getting more development in later volumes, and that was enough for me for now, but I do need to see it all fleshed out in the next book.
There was lots of stuff that had to take a back seat to Meyer’s plot as it ran its course: most of the characters, including Prince/Emperor Kaito, the evil moon queen, her stepmother and one “evil” stepsister were all underdeveloped, as Meyer just kind of relied on the fairy-tale trope to carry those characters through. Also underdeveloped in this book? The moon people, the history of the dystopic world she’s created (how did it get to be that way? how far into the future are we?), an explanation for why the culture of New Beijing is so conspicuously Americanized (I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was due to globalization and cultures assimilating with one another over thousands of years, but it could also be an actual oversight). I wanted more development of the social structure in New Beijing. Cinder mentions several times that cyborgs are seen as second class citizens, but the only real instance of it we have is her stepmother’s hatred of her, which could just be chalked up to the usual stepmothery reasons.
The only other complaint that I have is that the plot “twist” near the end is completely predictable. In fact, I predicted it from the first moment I possibly could, and I’m betting 95% of readers will do the same (either because they’re smart like that, or because they’re so used to these types of stories and how they play out that it never had a chance of being a surprise in the first place). Meyer would have been better off acknowledging the twist from the beginning, and letting the tension come from us wondering when Cinder would be clued in as well.
So even with all that whinging up there, I give this four stars. I’ll probably be harder on the sequels than I’m being on Cinder, but I’m forgiving of all this stuff because I liked what was there very much, and it wasn’t really until I started thinking about the book after I’d finished it that other stuff came to light for me. In fact, most of that complaining up there can be boiled down to three simple words: I wanted more. And that’s not the worst complaint to have, really, because it means I’m invested enough to care . . . have I mentioned before how much I hate waiting for sequels? Because I really hate it.