Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer

I am currently on vacation on the beach! Fun, but internet isn’t so happy with me. I have been attempting to post this review for somewhere around three days now. Fingers crossed!

* SPOILER WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CINDER.*

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Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) by Marissa Meyer
Rating: 3.5/5
Summary: Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.  

* SPOILER WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IF YOU HAVE NOT READ CINDER.*

Scarlet is the sophomore novel of Marissa Meyer. You may recall that I have also reviewed the first installment here. With the first novel, I complained of underdeveloped characters, book logic, predictability and a formulaic approach to the fairy tale that brought the entire book down. I am glad to say that a lot of the issues I took with Cinder have been fixed in Scarlet. Scarlet is a very solid novel and I can easily see the leaps and bounds Meyer’s writing has taken. As one might guess from the names of Scarlet and Wolf, this story is based upon the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. However, unlike Cinder’s Cinderella, it does not attempt to follow the formula to the point I know exactly what is coming next. There’s a girl with red hair and a red hoodie and a ‘wolf’ and a grandmother she must journey to… it’s not completely a retelling at all— Meyer is able to take many more liberties here and her book is much better off for it. And I appreciate that so much.

In Scarlet, Meyer switches between Scarlet and Cinder’s point of view every few chapters or so. It opens on Scarlet’s life in France and for the first few chapters, I was very concerned that Meyer was not going to focus on Cinder at all. Luckily, that was not the case. It also addressed what I had thought was a plot hole in the first novel— there is a common, universal language which people speak in addition to their own nation’s language. In any case, the POV switching is handled fairly well and helped to pace the novel appropriately. Given that I wasn’t a huge fan of Cinder in her own book, I appreciated the chance to get out of her head. Kai’s POV also shows up for a bit, which I was annoyed about, but it did allow him to gain more depth and character, something that bothered me in the first book. So the simple structure of Scarlet already made it an improvement over Meyer’s debut novel.

So who is Scarlet Benoit? She’s… well, kind of a badass. Scarlet knows who she is, she’s tough and can take care of herself, she carries around a gun (and knows how to use it) and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. When we meet her in France, we discover that she lives on a produce farm with her grandmother, who has mysteriously disappeared and Scarlet is convinced her grandmother has been kidnapped despite the police’s disbelief. As much as the angry redhead trope is overused, I can forgive it for being Little Red Riding Hood. (This time.)

Scarlet is pretty fearless and ready to go after her grandmother and get her back— the only problem is that she has no idea who would have taken her or where to go to get her back. She ends up meeting the street-fighter, Wolf, who fights with inhumane strength and seems oddly obsessed with her. The relationship borders on Edward and Bella-esque— Scarlet knows she shouldn’t trust him but before long, they’re tight as can be and within a week or so, she can’t imagine her life without him. Um… what? Scarlet’s a badass and yet suddenly she needs this big guy towering over her, following her around going “I’ll protect you, I’ll protect you”? I think not. But in comparison to Cinder, I’ll take Scarlet any day.

So there’s that. Wolf, to his own merit, is pretty interesting. He’s your typical bad boy trying to be a hero, complete with dark, brooding looks and a mysterious past that isn’t fully explained. You expect him to be cocky and swaggering, arrogant and full of himself, but Meyer didn’t decide to go with the complete stereotype and for good measure. Wolf is awkward and shy, humble and yet powerful. I really did like his characterization. My biggest issue with him, however, is that his backstory isn’t explained enough in the actual novel and I’m not sure I’d adore him so much without having read The Queen’s Army. DEFINITELY read that short story before reading Scarlet for full enjoyment of this book! I enjoyed that short story quite a bit and would have loved to see that as a standalone novel.

My favorite character in Scarlet  was definitely Captain Carswell Thorne! Finally, a character who isn’t a *special snowflake* in one way or another. He’s extraordinary in some ways, yes, but he’s a self-made man as it were and none of his skills can be attributed to magic powers or relatives in high places. Captain Thorne is a breath of fresh air, and he is one of my favorite characters along with Iko. The pair of them are adorable, especially with Iko’s new and *cough* expanded role in this book.

Though we don’t find out a ton about Thorne in this novel, I hope he gets a bigger role in the future because I really adore him and his humor. Even though he’s a human (and thus susceptible to the brainwashing of the Lunars), Thorne really does try his best to be involved in everything and do his best. Even when he’s making wisecracks the entire time, you can tell he is a hero at heart. And I love him, I really do. Thorne is probably my favorite addition to the Lunar Chronicles— and he better be here to stay!

One major thing I disliked was Cinder and her development throughout the novel. This was one section that I felt like Meyer didn’t delve too much into— despite knowing what needs to be done and using her newfound powers, Cinder shys away from it and… really doesn’t accomplish much of anything throughout the entire novel. She may be Princess Selene but she hasn’t taken a single step towards learning more about the Lunars (who are supposed to be her people). I felt like this could have gone so much further and yet it fell short and I was disappointed. Similarly, Kai’s obsessing over her (and somehow not seeing that she is Princess Selene when it is really staring him in the face) over… what exactly? Just makes me dislike him more. He’s still in love with her despite believing Cinder lied to him and I’m really just quite annoyed by their pseudo-romance. THERE IS NO RELATIONSHIP TO BASE ANYTHING OFF OF!

Overall, however, I enjoyed Scarlet and I believe it was a very solid entry into the Lunar Chronicles. It surpassed Cinder by leaps and bounds and I am very hopeful that Meyer’s writing will only continue to blossom. To reiterate, I think it would be beneficial for readers to read Meyer’s short story, The Queen’s Army, before reading Scarlet in order to fully appreciate the character of Wolf. While I disapprove of Meyer’s attempts at romance, there are many characters in her books I have grown to adore and want to see more of. After all, there are still two more in the series!

-Jacqui *

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

THIS REVIEW IS NOT COMPLETELY SPOILER FREE. SLIGHT SPOILERS WILL BE MARKED.

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Expected Release Date: September 9th, 2014
Rating: 4/5 stars

Summary: Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he does his best to do his worst – and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It’s a place that is both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning for the biggest test is still to come…

The Iron Trial is the first book written by Holly and Cassie as collaborators. However, they are not new to the Young Adult genre at all. Holly is well known for her Curse Breakers’ series as well as The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Cassie already has two widely popular series under her belt as well: The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices. Both authors are favorites of mine, so needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled to hear about the two of them working together.

The Iron Trial did something to me that I’m not used to… it shocked me. When you’ve read enough books, it is difficult to get tricked by the plot twists. If there is a mystical lost princess or a prophecy awaiting a chosen one mentioned casually in a book, it is usually easy to guess that the main character will fulfill this mysterious role. The remaining part of the book will entail how they ‘found themselves and saved the world.’ It’s an age old concept that traps readers again and again as the basic formula to a successful fantasy book. One thing that I love about both Cassie and Holly is the red herrings they place in their books. Based on the clues given, there is obviously only one possible solution until… wait what? Their books always send me on a wild journey with twists and turns that I never see coming.

I have to say that The Iron Trial showcased what I loved best about both authors. When I started reading, I was actually quite worried. Let me spell it out for you. There’s a magic school that people spend all of their schooling career at. The mother died when our main character was a baby, and said main character has a visible disability/scar because of it. There is an older master/mentor character. Oh, and the main character has two best friends: a know-it-all female and a loyal male. I think after the phenomena that was Harry Potter, readers automatically put the pieces of the puzzle together that it will be exactly like the story that got many of us into reading.

I am so very happy to say Cassie and Holly proved us wrong. Though the preface may seem similar, these ladies took the idea of a magic school and completely made it their own.

The book opens with Callum right before he is about to take his Iron Trial. He has spent his whole life being told magic is wrong. He was led to believe mages only care about themselves, and that’s how his mother was killed. Throughout his whole life, his father trained him to fail these tests. Yet, no matter how hard he tried at failing, Call couldn’t fail. The concept is interesting and something I have never seen in YA lit yet. Usually schools full of magic are glorified for all the good they bring with it. However, this book shone a light on … what if that wasn’t the case?

One thing I loved was the main character Call. If I met him in life, I’m not sure I would be friends with his little twelve year old self. The thing I loved about him was that he was real. All too often, YA books are filled with characters that are supposed to be young… but don’t act it. Callum was mischievous and lacked tact. He was rash in his anger, and he was insecure. It wasn’t a far reach for me to believe that he was actually a 12 year old little boy. Same thing goes for Callum’s two best friends, Tamara and Aaron. Each have motivations and depth. They aren’t at all what they appear to be on the surface. One thing everyone should keep in mind is that this book is written for middle school kids. It is not the most advanced characterization simply because they are twelve. They still have so much time to learn and grow.

Another thing I loved is the world building. However, I still have so many questions about the world they live in. How do they decide what missions are acceptable to send silver/gold years on? What is Alex’s significance? What are the credentials to become a master? How do mages fit in the real world? At this point, I would have liked more questions to be answered, but there are still four more books in the series. If anything, the questions give me something to focus on when reading the next book. However, the part I loved the most was how something as traditional of a concept as magic school was flawlessly made their own. I really loved the idea of the Iron Trial and the handpicked groups from each master. It took the old idea of magic school, reshaped it, and made it seem as if it was something totally new. I LOVE that. I love that such a used concept could be developed into something so original.

One thing that I didn’t love was the pacing. It went really well until the end. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT. The climax and twists were fantastic, as well as the falling action. However, I didn’t understand how Callum, Tamara and Aaron just got to pass the Iron Gate early. There seemed to lack an explanation there. What happens at the end of the year when the rest of the students pass through? Will the next book start with their next year or pick up right after the climax of this book? I just felt that last scene came out of left field, and I am unsure how it will affect the second book of the series END OF SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT

All in all, I found myself loving this book. It was a strong first novel, and I definitely see myself and others getting absorbed into the books and completing the series. Once again, I want to remind all future readers to remember this book is written at a middle school level. It is not written the way some of Cassie and Holly’s previous books have been written (since they are for an older audience). Don’t hold the book up to an expectation that is totally out of its league.

I would recommend this book to all my reading friends as well as younger children interested in reading and fantasy. I can’t wait for you guys to read it, and I hope you enjoy!

~Taylor~

MUCH LOVE AND HAPPY READING

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles #1)

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer — The Lunar Chronicles #1
Rating: 3/5

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.

-Jacqui *

You know what the secret is? It’s so simple. We love books.”