Thursday, August 15, 2013

Cinder (book) by Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a science fiction retelling of the Cinderella story. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Synopsis:

When she was little, Cinder was found and taken in by Linh Garan, who died of the letumosis plague a short while later. Her stepmother grudgingly took care of her, but, as a cyborg, Cinder has few rights. Eventually, Cinder becomes her new family's sole source of income, working hard as a mechanic at her booth in New Beijing's weekly market. Her only friends are Peony, her youngest stepsister, and Iko, an android.

When Prince Kai stopped by her booth to ask her to fix one of his androids, it was like a dream come true. She might not be able to go to the upcoming ball like her stepsisters, but she still got to meet and speak with the Prince. Not many girls can say that, much less cyborgs like her.

Prince Kai's father, the Emperor, is quickly dying of the plague. Levana, the Lunar queen, is poised and ready to swoop in and give Kai little choice but to marry her, after which she will probably enslave as much of Earth as possible. Kai's android may contain key information, but Cinder has to fix it first, and she suddenly has a lot on her plate. Peony has contracted the plague, and stepmother has volunteered Cinder for cyborg plague testing, something no one has ever survived, in order to get the family payoff (quick money).

Review:

For a while now, I've been kind of worried that I've lost the ability to love the books I read. It seems like everything I've read lately has just been “okay” at best. I wasn't sure how to break out of my funk. Should I read a new-to-me book by an author whose works I've enjoyed in the past? Should I reread an old favorite? I fretted that my reading funk might cause me to dislike books I'd normally enjoy.

Then Cinder came in via interlibrary loan. I read it in a couple days and loved it. It's not flawless, but I loved it anyway, and that makes me so happy. It confirms that my ability to love the things I read is not broken.

This was a fabulously imaginative retelling of the Cinderella story. It included a lot of recognizable Cinderella story elements, but it didn't always use them the same way they were used in more traditional versions. I excitedly noted mentions of Cinder's tiny prosthetic foot (Cinderella's tiny feet), the gasoline-powered car she found in a junkyard (Cinderella's ride to the ball), and more, and I made guesses about story elements I couldn't be sure of.

The first mentions of letumosis, a plague that could affect just about anyone on Earth at any time, came as a shock. I had figured that Cinder would be a futuristic but still fairly straight retelling of the Cinderella story, and the plague didn't fit in with that. While the plague portions were definitely interesting and added a lot of tension, they also tied in with several of the issues I had with this book.

First, it bothered me that the plague was never explained very well. Its victims went through several stages before dying, including one in which they developed bruise-like spots. There were never any survivors – anyone who caught the plague died of it. Beyond that, though, there weren't really any details. People acted like they had no clue how the plague was transmitted. They freaked out if they were anywhere near someone discovered to have it, and everything a plague victim touched was burned. Was the plague transmitted by touch? Was it airborne? I couldn't really tell. It seemed to just spontaneously appear.

Second, this book had a kind of weird mix of tones, and the plague elements were part of that. Some things were very dark: the deaths of several characters due to the plague, cyborg plague testing, and Queen Levana's threats of war and willingness to brainwash anyone who opposed her. Other things were lighter: planning for the ball and Cinder's giddy attraction to Prince Kai. The different tones didn't always blend in quite the right way for me. For example, Prince Kai flirting with Cinder shortly after the death of his father, who readers were told he was close to. His father had been sick for maybe a week, so it wasn't like he had had a long time to get used to the idea that his father was going to die. It was a little jarring, but not so much that it completely threw me off. It feels nitpicky, but this slightly “off” mix of light and dark happened a few times throughout the book.

The little things that didn't quite work for me were eclipsed by the things I loved, though. One of those was the pacing, which was good and fast. Another was Prince Kai. He tended to act more like a regular guy than like a prince, and even I noticed that Meyer never really showed readers why he fell so hard for Cinder rather than someone else. However. I wanted to hug him. He was sweet, and kind, and persistent (but not to the point of being a pushy jerk), even when Cinder turned him down without an explanation. He mostly saw her in work clothes, complete with grease smudges, and he didn't mind. He never once acted embarrassed to be around her, even though the story gave him at least a couple opportunities to be embarrassed. He was pretty much perfect for Cinder. The only thing is, romance fans need to be aware that this book doesn't end with Cinder and Kai's HEA – I'm hoping we'll get that in a future book.

Cinder was another thing I liked about this book. She was good at what she did and loyal to the people she loved. By the end, she was in a better position to save Prince Kai than the other way around, and I'm looking forward to seeing how things turn out.

Despite recognizing that this book had flaws, I still loved it, and I can't wait to read the next book.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Dust City (book) by Robert Paul Weston - I haven't read this, but it sounds like it might, like Cinder, have an interesting and kind of dark mix of genres - fairy tale retelling and urban fantasy. The main character is the son of the Big Bad Wolf.
  • A Long, Long Sleep (book) by Anna Sheehan - Again, not one I've read. It's a sci-fi retelling of Sleeping Beauty.
  • Masque of the Red Death (book) by Bethany Griffin - I haven't read this one, but I've read a few reviews of it over the past year. It kept coming to my mind while I read Cinder, I think because both are YA books involving a plague.
  • Graceling (book) by Kristin Cashore - Hear me out on this one. I know it doesn't have a whole lot of obvious elements in common with Cinder. What it does have is a romance subplot that put a smile on my face, a good, fast pace, and a capable heroine who's a bit of an outcast. I've written about this book.
  • Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You (manga) by Karuho Shiina; Kimi ni Todoke - From Me to You (anime TV series) - This isn't science fiction, or even fantasy. However, those who were charmed by Prince Kai may love Kazehaya. Sawako, the series' heroine, is used to others being afraid of her because she looks like Sadako (the girl from The Ring). Even so, she tries hard to make friends. Kazehaya, a kind, popular boy, notices this and begins to fall for her. This series is super-sweet and lovely. I've written about several volumes of the manga and both seasons of the anime.
  • Ghost in the Shell (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (anime movie); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime TV series); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig (anime TV series) - The original movie is a classic, but my favorites are the newer movies and the TV show - I'm shallow and like the newer animation and sound effects. This franchise is dark and, at best, has only a shadow of something that could be called romance. However, Cinder fretting over the bits of her that aren't human and her inability to cry or blush made me think of this series, which often explores the idea of being human.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (manga) by Hiromu Arakawa; Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (anime TV series); Fullmetal Alchemist (anime TV series) - If the whole cyborg/android thing attracted you, you might want to give this steampunk series a shot. Start with either the manga or the original TV series, not Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. This series also features a few female mechanics - they fix up Edward Elric, one of the main characters, whenever he breaks his automail (prosthetic) arm or leg.

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