Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s debut, is a science fiction romance that is both clearly inspired by the tale of Cinderella and clearly for teenage readers. In this future world, androids are as common as pets, while cyborgs are ostracized and loathed. The descendants of the humans who colonized the Moon have evolved into Lunars with their own culture, their own leadership, and their own magic powers. While a plague ravages Earth and tensions mount between the Eastern Commonwealth and the Lunars, Crown Prince Kaito urgently seeks out a mechanic to repair his broken android. The best mechanic in New Beijing is the sixteen-year-old Lihn Cinder, a cyborg.
Any book that uses one of the most well-known fairy tales of all time as inspiration does risk being predictable. The reader expects that Cinder will be forced to live a life of drudgery by her despicable stepmother yet somehow fall in love with the prince and escape to his ball in the end. I didn’t read it to find out if she’d make it to the ball; that was pretty much given. It’s the unique spin this type of book gives to the familiar tale that keeps me reading. Unfortunately, even in its unique spin, I found Cinder to be pretty predictable. The big reveal at the very end of the book was so heavily foreshadowed that I predicted it after reading about a quarter of the book.
Many of the problems Cinder faces feel very common to teenage romance, to the point of being cliché. (I hesitate to call it young adult romance, because that suggests a level of maturity. Cinder does not act like an adult, even a young one.) She has predictably low self-esteem—moping to herself about her “metal monstrosities” and “mousy hair”—and a skewed sense of interpersonal ethics. He won’t like me if he knows the truth, so I’ll just lie to him. Yeah, that always turns out great.
Prince Kai is the cookie cutter Prince Charming. He’s nice, likable, and, of course, rich and powerful. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to him. He’s a flat character, there to fill the role of Cinder’s love interest. As for Cinder… well, she’s more pitiable than likable, and it’s difficult even to have much sympathy for a protagonist who behaves as stupidly as she does. Many of the challenges Cinder has to face as the plot thickens are problems she herself causes with her foolish behavior or, even more frustratingly, nonexistent problems that she only imagines.
Beyond these two, there aren’t any characters of significance. Cinder has her horrid stepmother and two stepsisters, one horrid and one nice. She also has a cute, occasionally clever android. Prince Kai has an adviser. There’s a doctor around who’s trying to research a cure for the plague, and the Lunar Queen shows up to force the Emperor into a marriage treaty. None of these characters, however, receive more than minimal development or characterization; they’re simply props to fill the background.
A fun read
Despite my complaints, I really did enjoy reading Cinder. I breezed through it quickly; it’s neither a long nor deep book by any means. I’ve read a number of Cinderella-based stories over the years—it’s always been my favorite fairy tale—and this one was certainly unique. I don’t think I’ve ever read another science fiction Cinderella, and I’ve definitely never read one where the oppressed heroine is a cyborg. The novelty of that alone was enough to carry me through the book, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I might not read the rest of the series, though. It was the lure of my favorite fairy tale, retold, that pulled me in, but while the series continues to follow Cinder, each book is based on a different tale. Scarlet is based on Red Riding Hood. Cress, expected in 2014, is inspired by the tale of Rapunzel, and Winter (2015) will feature Snow White.
Why should you read this book?
If the familiar tropes commonly found in young adult books don’t bother you or you have a particular taste for science fiction flavored teenage romance, you’d likely enjoy Cinder—especially if fairy tale inspired books are your thing. Otherwise, only pick up this book if you’re looking for a cotton candy read. It’s not very intelligent, but it is quick and fun.