Cinder's story continues, as she breaks out of her prison cell and, along with Thorne, a fellow escapee, tries to decide what to do next. Reluctant to do as Dr. Erland told her (join the resistance as Princess Selene), she instead opts to find the pilot who helped rescue and hide her when she was a child.
Meanwhile, a brand-new character named Scarlet is desperately looking for her grandmother. She is sure her grandmother was kidnapped, but no one will believe her. Then her alcoholic father shows up, wild and afraid, claiming that he and her grandmother were held captive and tortured. He was freed only on the condition that he find whatever it was his captors were looking for. Unfortunately, he has no clue what that is, and neither does Scarlet. Her father's rantings and ravings do at least point Scarlet in the direction of Wolf, a newcomer in town who may know where her grandmother is being kept.
I loved Cinder. I fully expected to love this book. It saddens me to say that I did not. It took a tremendous amount of effort to even finish it.
The book's biggest problem was that it took forever to get going. I had to slog through half of it before things finally started happening, and I didn't really get into the story until I was maybe three quarters of the way through.
I had originally expected Scarlet to be like Cinder, with a single heroine. Cinder would be mentioned a few times and would maybe get a cameo appearance, but, for the most part, I figured this would be Scarlet's book. Not so much. The story was divided between Scarlet and Cinder's journeys. I tended to enjoyed Cinder's parts more than Scarlet's. It seemed like Cinder did more and was more varied in her emotions. Scarlet was, for the most part, angry and filled with desperation, so completely focused on finding her grandmother that hardly anything else mattered, even her own safety. Had Wolf been the kind of person she initially thought he was, she'd have died long before she even had a chance to rescue her grandmother, simply because she refused to ever stop and think things through.
I not only preferred Cinder over Scarlet, I also preferred Cinder/Kai over Scarlet/Wolf. Wolf seemed underdeveloped. I could see the type Meyer was going for – shy, damaged loner who is occasionally violent but seems to hate that part of himself – but I just couldn't emotionally connect with him and the budding romance between him and Scarlet.
Just as Cinder had me wondering about world-building details that were never mentioned, so too did Scarlet. Other than a couple parts, the plague seemed like much less of a big deal in this book. Whereas Cinder was justifiably terrified of it in the first book, it was barely a blip on Scarlet's radar. At first, I forgave this, because Scarlet lived in the country, a less densely populated area. However, at one point in the book, Scarlet was in an enclosed space when someone was found to be carrying the plague. Not once did she experience even a shiver of fear or a moment of worry that she might have come into contact with the disease. That seemed odd. The only explanation I could come up with was that her focus on her grandmother was so complete that even the prospect of catching the plague didn't faze her.
I also wondered about language issues, or, to be more exact, the lack of language issues. Cinder was raised in New Beijing and presumably spoke Chinese. Perhaps her implant could have helped her quickly learn a new language, but, if that ever happened, it was never mentioned. Captain Carswell Thorne, a new character, was from the US republic, so presumably he spoke English. Scarlet lived in France and presumably spoke French. And yet language issues were never mentioned in any way. There was no mention of a common language that everyone (on the whole planet???) knew, no mention of translation devices, no “I studied [insert language name] in school and can therefore understand you.” This bugged me.
My problems with the world-building and characters aside, once things finally started happening, I enjoyed this book more. Thorne was fun, except for his somewhat creepy reaction to Scarlet's unconscious friend. And I liked Iko more in this book than I did in the first one, although that may have been due in part to my love of sentient spaceships. I liked finding out what happened next in the overall story and fully expect to read the next book. I just really, really hope that the next book doesn't drag as badly as this one did.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Dust City (book) by Robert Paul Weston - I haven't read this, but it sounds like it might, like Scarlet, 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.
- The Golden Compass (book) by Philip Pullman - Another YA (or Middle Grade?) rescue story, in this case with fantasy elements and no romance. Everyone in the world of this book has a daemon, a being that's kind of like a physical manifestation, in animal form, of a person's soul. I've written about the audiobook.
- Graceling (book) by Kristin Cashore - I think those who enjoyed the adventure, romance, and heroines in Meyer's books might like this book. Gracelings are those who have a particular magical gift. Katsa is Graced with killing, to the point where, until she learned to control herself, she sometimes accidentally killed people. King Randa makes her kill people for him, but eventually she decides she's had enough of it. I've written about this book, but, beware, my post is filled with spoilers.
- The 10th Kingdom (live action mini-series); The 10th Kingdom (book) by Kathryn Wesley - This story stars another Wolf who is torn between the part of him that loves the heroine and the part of him that is dangerous and wild. The mini-series has cheesy special effects but is still pretty decent. I've written about the novelization.