Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cinder (Marissa Meyer)

(The Lunar Chronicles, Book 1)
Marissa Meyer
Fiewel and Friends
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: Over a hundred years after World War IV, Earth's nations seem to have finally learned not to let hatred escalate to violence. That does not, however, mean that it's extinct. Cinder knows this all too well. As a cyborg, she's considered subhuman, despite her unsurpassed skills as a mechanic and the enhancements her brain interface and other additives give her. Only the Lunars - humans changed by generations living on the moon, gifted with mind-altering abilities akin to magic - are more hated and distrusted. The fact that Cinder never asked to become a cyborg after a terrible accident doesn't change how her stepmother and others feel about her kind, despite her superior mechanical talents being the only thing keeping a roof over the family's heads.
When Crown Prince Kai himself - object of countless crushes throughout New Beijing - walks into her shop with a malfunctioning android, she hopes her luck will finally improve... but things only get worse, as her sister Peony falls ill with the plague that's sweeping like wildfire through cities around the world. Suddenly, Cinder finds herself drawn into the heart of palace intrigue, where doctors race to find a cure and Kai struggles with the diplomatic demands of the Lunar queen Levana, demands that might save the Eastern Commonwealth or doom it to the mind control-induced slavery of the Lunar regime. Can one cyborg girl change the course of history?

REVIEW: Though technically sci-fi, this Cinderella-inspired tale almost feels more like a fantasy; the inhabitants of New Beijing even refer to the Lunars' abilities as "magic," despite there being a technobabble explanation for their powers. Meyer presents a future with hope and despair, weighted somewhat toward the latter from Cinder's perspective, as she finds herself targeted by humanity's seemingly innate need to find someone or something to hate. Indeed, the disdain heaped upon cyborgs is so great that one wonders why anyone bothers with the procedure at all - yes, mechanical body parts save lives, but only for a future as something more contemptible and disposable than an android. Cinder struggles to keep from giving into hopelessness as things go from bad to worse, pinning her dreams of escape on a junkyard find. The fact that Crown Prince Kai takes a shine to her from their first meeting, without realizing she's a hated cyborg, only makes things more complicated. That relationship felt a little convenient and somewhat one-sided, with Kai doggedly pursuing a girl who is, at the very least, several rungs below his station in a society still class-conscious enough to revere its royalty. The other aspects of his personality are better balanced, as he finds himself thrust onto the throne long before he feels ready, facing a diplomatic adversary who can quite literally alter his thoughts. Some of the plot twists and revelations are telegraphed fairly early on, particularly those concerning Cinder's origins, and some of Cinder's outbursts start to feel less like justified rage at the unfairness of her lot in life and more like a teenager slamming the door while complaining how they never asked to be born, but overall the story maintains a decent momentum. It ended on an odd note, almost as though it was intended to go on longer but was cropped for the purposes of generating sequels. That misstep almost cost it a half-star, but overall I enjoyed Meyer's world, the story, and (for the most part) the characters enough to overlook that.

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