Book Review: Cinder

by Marissa Meyer

I mentioned my love for fairy tale retellings in my holiday guide last year, so it is no surprise I was excited to see Cinder in my local independent bookstore. Like Ash, this is a re-imagining of the Cinderella story (as you can probably tell from the title), but it is a very different setting and characterization. In this story, Cinder is a cyborg. She was adopted by a businessman from New Beijing while he was visiting Europe, and brought back to live with his wife and stepdaughters, but he died soon after. As a cyborg, Cinder is legally owned by her stepmother, so she has even less freedom than Ella in the traditional tale. She has no memory of her life before the surgery that made her into a cyborg, but it becomes quickly apparent that she is more than what she seems to be.

Cinder is a strong character who has the brains, strength and grit to take care of herself, but the society in which she lives severely limits her options and autonomy. She also has to deal with a deadly plague moving through the city, unleashed by the Lunar colonists who want to take over earth, not to mention the fear that everyone has of what the mind controlling Lunars will do to Earth inhabitants if they do manage to take over. When the crown prince comes into her shop to get an important android repaired so that he can retrieve some important information to help defend humanity from the Lunars, they begin a relationship that has something of attraction, but also of true friendship.

There is definitely a love story in this book, but it is not based on the beauty of the girl and the superiority of the (male) prince. They develop a real relationship based on recognizing the strengths of each other, and it is not wrapped in a pretty bow at the end. Things are too grim for a fairy tale ending, and anyway, this isn’t the end of the story–more books are coming.

All of the characters in this book were fleshed out with real, complex motivations for what they do, even the evil stepmother to some extent. The story as a whole was much more complex than the original tale, and certainly more cybernetic! Obviously, some added complexity is necessary when expanding a short story to a novel, but I found that it combined the gritty realism of cyberpunk-style SF and the archetypical fable particularly well done here. The futuristic and traditional viewpoints enhance each other rather than distracting the reader, and the combination is remarkably seamless.

It is a theme of my recent reviews to end saying I can’t wait for the next book. I could be rather crabby about this; for many years I preferred to read books that were not new, just to avoid this situation, and I do like to read the occasional standalone book. However, when worlds are this well-drawn, with a rich cast of characters and settings, it is good to have a more complete story that explores multiple facets of the world, too. In this case, it seems that we will get another viewpoint next time, as the next book, Scarlet, is to be told from the point of view of Little Red Riding Hood. I am sure we will find out more about what happens to Cinder (WE HAD BETTER!), but it will be interesting to see another tale retold as well.