Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Linh Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing in the Asian Commonwealth. She is also a cyborg and therefore a second class citizen because she is less human, about 38% human, according to the tests. With a platinum and plastic heart that pumps quietly and efficiently and a cybernetic network and visual display that keep her cool, calm, and collected, she is a marvel of machinery. A few minor upgrades, like a brand new mechanical foot since she's outgrown the old one placed when she was a child, and she'd be perfect, just not human, as her guardian and adopted mother would have it.

Her guardian was once the wife of a rich and powerful man who died of Letumosis, a contagion that began in the country and has worked its way into the confines of the city, and it is always fatal. Cinder's guardian blames her for infecting her adopted father and leaving them all destitute so that Cinder is the family's only source of income, and Cinder's guardian resents her for it.

When the prince (incognito) comes to Cinder's stall on market day to have a teaching robot fixed, she is surprised and her system warns her that she was in danger of sensory overload. The prince wants his robot fixed before the festival and Cinder agrees to give it a go, while concealing she is a cyborg, thus changing their lives forever and setting the ground rules for Meyer's re-imagined fairy tale.

In remodeling the fairy tale of Cinderella, Marissa Meyer throws out most of the conventions and strikes out into brand new territory, retaining a few of the traditional elements to give the story a magical feel. There is more science in Cinder than magic, but that shouldn't deter die-hard fairy tale fans. There is enough of the fairy tale to maintain the fantasy.

From the beginning, Meyer lets you know what is about to happen, leaving not so subtle clues and repeating them from time to time. From the first mention of the lunar princess who has been missing for more than a decade, it's obvious who she will turn out to be -- Cinderella, or in this case, Cinder. Meyer leans pretty hard on the "I'm not good enough because I'm a cyborg" element, but it's not always unpleasant and anchors Cinder within the story's emotion and social framework.

While Cinder isn't a classical fairy tale, it is still fairy tale enough with queens from the moon with the power to glamour entire populations and turning their emotions from hate and disgust to love and adoration. The fairy godmother may be a lunar scientist on the run from the current regime and not using his glamour gift, but he is certainly a fun and fascinating addition to the tale.

When a dirty Cinder limping on a poorly fitting mechanical foot in a discarded dress shows up at the ball, the ending to the night is in the bag -- or is it?

Marissa Meyer throws a few curves in Cinder and they enhance the story: missing lunar princess, a cyborg Cinderella with no feminine wiles, an evil queen with the power to glamour everyone, and a power struggle between Earth and the Moon for starters. The biggest drawback is knowing the book is part of a trilogy and it will take a while before Cinder finds her happily ever after ending with the prince.

Cinder is a welcome addition to re-imagined fairy tales with a style and shape all its own.

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