Series: Lunar Chronicles #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Cinder is the most gifted mechanic in New Beijing–but only because she has a secret. Cinder is a cyborg, and thus considered a second-class citizen. Her stepfamily mistreats her and she must live with the knowledge that society hates and fears her. Then Prince Kai shows up with a mysterious request. He needs the information hidden in a broken android. Suddenly, Cinder is involved in a most unexpected romance–but also embroiled in interplanetary politics.
I first read Cinder years ago, closer to when it was first released. Although Briana–and most of the bookish community–loved it, I was less impressed. While setting a “Cinderella retelling” in a sci-fi setting was original, the rest of the plot seemed more mediocre to me. I liked the book, but not enough to keep reading the series. Ten years later, however, I have given Cinder another chance. While I still do not find the story breathtaking, I did find it engaging enough to keep on reading.
The most interesting aspect of the book, for me, is Cinder’s identity as a cyborg since cyborgs are looked down upon by the rest of society, and even mandated to enter a draft for medical test subjects since their lives are seen as inherently less valuable. This gives the book plenty of room to interrogate societal injustices and civilians’ tacit involvement, while also making Cinder a relatable teen. Though readers may not know what it is to be a cyborg, plenty probably know how it feels to not fit in, to feel awkward in their bodies, and to long for a place where they will be truly accepted as they are. The intersection of Cinder’s identity with the empire’s politics lies at the heart of the story, raising the question of when or if Cinder will choose to start pushing back.
The bulk of the story, however, is really about the romance between the mechanic Cinder and the prince Kai. The prospect of a rags-to-riches story, with Cinder getting back at all those who treated her poorly by finding acceptance among the elite, is probably what has driven the popularity of the “Cinderella” tale over the years. It’s just so satisfying. Even so, I was glad to see that Marissa Meyer subverts this storyline. Though Cinder may have caught the eye of prince, it is not his favor that makes her special. Cinder is strong and remarkable all by herself–and the ending of the book promises to explore this theme more. I enjoyed the prospect the ending laid out of seeing the prince forced to see Cinder as an equal, one whose favor he might just have to earn in order to redeem himself.
Cinder works as a retelling for me because it takes a familiar storyline and does more than move it to a futuristic setting. Rather, it promises to interrogate social injustices and to subvert readers’ expectations from the original story. While I think that Meyer could do a little more to flesh out her world (all the nations seem kind of the same to me), the tech aspects at least give the story some grounding, while also providing a starting point for Meyer to add more original aspects to her retelling. Ultimately, Cinder is a satisfying YA read, and, this time, I will be checking out the sequel.