These days it feels like we are inundated with re-tellings and re-imaginings of Fairy Tales. Despite very favorable reviews from people I respect, I was hesitant to begin reading Cinder, by Marissa Meyer, because it was (yet another) Cinderella story. Ultimately I decided to take the plunge, and I’m glad that I did.
The initial setup for Cinder’s story is very easy to map to the elements of the classic story: the step-mother and step-sisters, the prince, the upcoming ball. But as this story is set in a futuristic world of robots and cybernetics, we get some interesting twists on the original story as well. Instead of talking animals, we get a quirky household servant android.
The primary antagonist for the book, and the series, is the Lunar Queen Levana. A colony, established on the moon hundreds of years ago, has developed into a powerful nation, and the Levana is apparently intent on conquering Earth, one way or another. Part of the reason the Lunars are so powerful is because of their ability to manipulate bioelectric energy, sometimes helpfully referred to as ‘magic’ when discussed by Earth-based characters. This power allows a Lunar to manipulate what another character sees, feels, and does when under the direct influence of the Lunar. The character easily maps to the “evil queen/witch” character found in many fairy tales, and in particular to the queen in Snow White, given the cover text from later books in the series.
One of the interesting twists that I really appreciated is the cultural perception of cyborgs, and how it influences the characters in the story. Cyborgs are literally viewed as being less than human. And as Cinder is a cyborg, that little detail gives the step-mother character an additional motivation for her unkindness, as well as significantly changing Cinder’s motivations. This Cinderella doesn’t want to go to the ball. Cinder has completely different plans for her life. As you might expect, she does eventually attend the ball, but largely for reasons other than what you generally expect from a Cinderella story.
There’s an additional ‘special’ ability that Cinder is revealed to have late in the book, and one of the other characters mentions that it is very distinctive and reminiscent of another character, but we get no additional information on what that means. The connection between Cinder and that other character have already been established by that point in the story, so telling us “your power looks a lot like hers”, but not telling us what that means or what it looks like, is frustrating as it feels like the author is deliberately withholding information that you would expect to be revealed at this point.
(I do see the irony in expressing frustration with how vague the book was regarding this point, while myself remaining vague about what that power is and the ‘connection to another character’, but I’m chalking that one up to trying to be as spoiler-free as possible.)
The most frustrating part of the book is how it ends, because it feels very much like the story had just gotten really moving. In essence, the story ends shortly after Cinder has fled the ball, and nothing has really been resolved. It feels very much like this story was written with the expectation that you are going to have to pick up the next book in the series to see how this plays out, even though the next book in the series appears to center, at least initially, on a completely different character.
Cinder is a very fun book to read, and, in all likelihood, I’ll be picking up the sequel in the near future to see how the story proceeds. Cinder is very much not the traditional helpless girl, waiting for a prince to save her. She’s competent, motivated, and tries to do what is best for herself and the people she cares about. It’s the best kind of princess story these days. The prince is there, and he’s part of the story. But it really is Cinder’s story, and does not revolve around him as the center of her universe. And that’s wonderfully refreshing take on this story.