(Very, very slight spoilers; no pivotal plot points revealed, just mention of a few details.)
Linh Cinder is a gifted mechanic working in the bustling city of New Beijing, considered a second-class citizen because of her status as a cyborg and living under the guardianship of a woman who detests and exploits her. But when a deadly plague encroaches on the city she’s enlisted for medical testing against her will and so begins a series of events that entangles her life with that of the handsome Prince Kaito, the global diplomatic relations with the dangerous Queen of the Lunar colony, and the fate of the earth itself.
The reliance on the Cinderella narrative is light, stripping much of the plot and keeping the archetypes—the prince, the wicked stepmother, the ball. All the characters are well-developed and Cinder herself is good-natured and refreshingly pragmatic; keeping her head down and working hard to free herself; making wrong decisions for the right reasons and actually learning from her mistakes. She doesn’t end up at the ball by way of deus ex machina and grand romantic gesture, but by her own volition and in a mire of political intrigue. Her antagonistic relationship with her own body is particularly interesting; she hates her robotic pieces and her status as cyborg, but it’s a truly awful moment when her stepmother confiscates her prosthetic foot. The eventual scene in which Cinder arrives at the ball, thanks to an old and previously resented cast-off prosthetic, is a satisfying moment of self-proclamation.
The foreshadowing in Cinder is a little obvious, but the predictability isn’t an unforgivable flaw; the interest is in watching how things play out among the characters and the book is fun enough that knowing the ‘reveals’ doesn’t really put a damper on it. In the nature of series openers, Cinder has a cliffhanger ending, but two of of the remaining three volumes have already been published, each following the fairy-tale theme: Scarlet (red riding hood) and Cress (Rapunzel).
Recommended, for ages 12 and up.
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2012.
Marissa Meyer’s official website
Kelly Jensen just published “Beyond the Bestsellers: So You’ve Read “The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer” over at Book Riot, a list of a few books to try after you’ve finished Cinder and its sequels. I put together another mini-readalike for some different elements of the books that you can check out below the cut.
Another innovative twist on fairy-tales:
“When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown.”
On the subject of social inequalities and what it means to be human in sci-fi world:
“Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated when the time comes for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. High-status trueborns and working-class lowborns, born naturally of a mother, are free to choose their own lives. But GENs are gestated in a tank, sequestered in slums, and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.”
Further seriously fun science fiction:
Planesrunner by Ian McDonald
“There is not one you. There are many yous. There is not one world. There are many worlds. Ours is one of billions of parallel earths. When Everett Singh’s scientist father is kidnapped from the streets of London, he leaves young Everett a mysterious app on his computer. Suddenly, this fourteen-year-old has become the owner of the most valuable object in the multiverse—the Infundibulum—the map of all the parallel earths, and there are dark forces in the Ten Known Worlds who will stop at nothing to get it.”