In coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, people all across the United States are staying at home to stop the spread of the virus. One way many of us are coping is going back to the comforting media of our childhood. For me, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is my book of choice. This book came out in 2012, so it serves to bring me back to my voracious reading habits of middle-school. It is also a twist on classic fairy tales (what says childhood more than fairy tales?) wrapped up in a sparkly YA dystopian package.
“Even in the future, the story begins with once upon a time.”
The story of Cinder follows its titular character Cinder, a cyborg Cinderella, as she navigates an increasingly-perilous life in New Beijing. We are introduced to a three-dimensional Prince Charming, Prince Kai, who meets Cinder at her mechanic booth — cue the beginnings of a romance Cinder tries to resist and secrets that may prove to unravel the world as they know it. There is a lot jam-packed into this book, including a plague outbreak of letumosis, a cyborg draft stepmother dynamics, a sassy android sidekick Iko, a colony on the moon, a missing princess, and an evil Lunar queen Levana. Even though the novel holds a lot of content, it never feels bogged down, never a chore to try and slog through. The writing itself is clear, full of engaging dialogue, and carries me through the story to the point where I forget that I am reading at all.
What do I love about this book?
Cinder is more than just a YA novel. More than just yet another fairy tale adaptation. Meyer has taken the tropes and stereotypes of fairy tale characters and managed to make them real and relatable. The Prince Charming deals with politics and a looming war rather than making smiles at beautiful women at a ball. Finding love is not Cinderella’s main motivation. She truly loves one of her step-sisters, and their family dynamic is more complex than being Evil or Innocent.
Cinder deals with intricate moral debates without devolving into a philosophical tangent. Is a common assumption in their society true: that cyborg life is worth less than human life? What are the ethical ramifications of mind control? The difficulties and dilemmas that come with a society in pandemic.
“‘Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?’”
More than anything, Cinder is an engaging read that promises to take you places you may never have imagined. There is a society that is comforting yet strange all at the same time, set on Earth but as a different world. Some plot twists may be predictable, but such is the peril of having a fairy tale as foundation. Meyer balances the stakes and tensions well throughout the novel, leaving me wanting to read more, even though I’ve already read the series before.
This novel is the first in the series The Lunar Chronicles, followed by Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. There is also a prequel (Fairest), a short story collection (Stars Above) and a spin-off graphic novel series (Wires & Nerve). Meyer draws upon the fairy tales of Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White and manages to surprise and excite at every turn.
★★★★★ 5/5 stars