Cinder by Marissa Meyer — The Lunar Chronicles #1
Cinder, published in 2012, is the debut novel of Marissa Meyer. However, her venture into writing books has been an ongoing process for a long time! Like many of us, Meyer wrote fanfiction for Sailor Moon (those familiar may catch a number of easter eggs in Cinder as a tribute to Sailor Moon) for around ten years before becoming a published author and Cinder was actually a NaNoWriMo novel (as were Scarlet and Cress). For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month— a challenge in which writers tackle the huge task of writing 50,000 words in the month of November. (Meyer says for the initial draft of Cinder, she managed to write triple that amount!)
When you take those factors into account, some of the issues I had with Cinder make more sense.
I knew going into Cinder that it was a Cinderella retelling, which means you can always expect some degree of cliché and rehashing. So that didn’t exactly bother me, and I really did find myself enjoying Cinder and her younger sister, Peony. The stepmother (Adri) and the other sister (Pearl) were a bit too over the top. I find it difficult to believe that after five years of living together, there still is zero emotional connection between them. It isn’t as though Adri had to keep Cinder after her husband died, she chose to. I get she’s the evil stepmother. I get that she’s *really bad person*… but it takes it a little too far here. Why are all the antagonists/Big Bad characters the women? Why are the supporting *good guys* (apart from Cinder’s sidekick and Peony) all men? I like that Cinder is presented as powerful, a gifted female mechanic (not something you see often) and cyborg and capable of anything she sets her mind to. I like that she’s a rebel.
I also thought Prince Kaito was a bit of a weak, two dimensional character. He’s fawning all over Cinder before he knows her at all and seems to be falling in love over… what, exactly? They never have any deep conversations. They never have much to do with each other at all— mostly, Kai pursues her insisting she go to the ball despite her repeat wishes not to. (What exactly is that saying? If you ask enough, boys, she’ll give in?) And Cinder is *oddly affected* by him which is sort of annoying because he doesn’t seem to do anything of note apart from being a prince and I guess looking very dreamy? But overall, nothing too deep. If anything, Kai is a bit naive. He doesn’t seem to be able to properly run a kingdom on his own and I’d expect someone groomed from birth to rule to have more… clue what to do. Yes, I know, this is Cinderella, you’re supposed to ignore all the little gaps in logic, but…
One of the things I loved about Cinder was the world-building. There was some issues— lack of depth and description at parts— but overall, Meyer was able to create a living, breathing future where Cyborgs and people living on the moon and all of this makes sense in context. I like that Cinder takes place in Asia, New Beijing, to be exact. There aren’t a lot of books that do that. Cinder herself is directly inspired by Japanese actress Mew Azama and Meyer says Cinder is racially ambiguous— so not your average blonde-haired, blue-eyed teenage hero. I like that. It’s different, it’s unique, it’s diversity where it is needed. I like the slang that Meyer adds in, the little details that tip you off to ’this is not my world today, this is the future’. There’s a lot of details that are interesting, like port screens and net screens (which are, apparently, completely different) and lots of technology and androids and everything. Yes, Meyer could have made it more clear the setting is Asia (without her explicitly stating that it was New Beijing, I’m not sure I would’ve picked up on the hints with sticky buns and dumplings apart from her placing Cinder’s last name first), but overall in the debut novel, her focus is making sure you know that this is the FUTURE. And there she does a great job. I love the androids!
Iko! Iko is the darling little house android that serves as Cinder’s sidekick throughout the novel. Although I felt like she was never completely clearly described and I was a bit confused as to what she looked like, Iko was my *FAVORITE* character. She’s a girly little robot who blurs the line of humanity and artificial intelligence and provides the perfect comic relief when it is desperately needed. As Cinder tells towards being overly serious, Iko is necessary to break that up and make everyone smile. Iko’s lovable and awesome. She deserves her own novella. (That’s what I thought The Littlest Android was going to be about… but sadly, I was mistaken.)
There were a couple of key issues which stood out to me. For instance, why do Cyborgs have such a low status in society? Apart from that, it appears that the society values technology very highly, and there’s clear benefits to being a Cyborg. It’s basically a superpower. So why isn’t it reserved for the very rich? Why isn’t this a privilege? I feel like with how technology even now is so intertwined into our lives (they are predicting we will text by thought in less than fifty years!) and people feel lost without their cellphones, the next step would be to put it in your body. So why is that looked down on here? Why does that make you enslaved? And if it does— if every Cyborg is basically property— then Adri, the “evil stepmother”, isn’t really so evil after all. She’s actually just your average person. Which kind of throws me off. This is something I think needs to explained more because I just don’t get it.
I haven’t even mentioned the Lunars yet. I think this story could have done fine without them because there was a lot of things to cover, however, it was an interesting addition. I wasn’t a big fan of Queen Levana’s name (I kept calling her Queen Lunarna and the Lunars ‘Levars’… I’m not great with names…) and I’m a bit confused as to how humans would have evolved that way to develop bio-brain-waves and such. Is it genetic manipulation? Are they actually a different species like the book says? Why do people on Earth hate Lunars so much, apart from the Queen? There’s a lot of little things that could be explained more, but I’m excited to see where it goes and how Meyer can improve on that. There’s just so much that she touches on in this book that it would have been impossible for Meyer TO fully capture everything so I’m sure much of it will be addressed in the future.
The one main thing dealing with Cinder is that you have to remember it is a Cinderella story. And by have to, I mean it is impossible to forget that Cinder is a Cinderella story. I found it formulaic at times— as soon as Prince Kai was introduced, it was inevitable that he would fall in love with her and invite her to the ball. The biggest twist introduced in the story could easily be guessed from the very moment it is hinted in the beginning of the book, but isn’t actually revealed until the end which is very frustrating because of how obvious it is. Sticking to the Cinderella format so strictly made Cinder extremely predictable and it is only the unique take on it (CYBORGS. TECHNOLOGY. ALIENS.) that saves it from being boring.
Ultimately, I enjoyed reading Cinder. It wasn’t a lingering read, I won’t stay up late at night pondering it, and I doubt I’ll read it again, but it was interesting enough to keep my attention for a few hours. It certainly sets the stage for the rest of Meyer’s books, which I am eager to read. I loved the world-building, I loved Iko and I loved the hints of Cinder’s characters. But being a Cinderella story can’t make up for all the breaks in logic and the most formulaic bits were the most difficult to read. Cinder would have been much stronger without sticking so hard to the original fairy tale, but it is definitely a worthwhile read and I look forward to seeing what Meyer comes up with next.
“You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”