Book Review: Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1)

I should mention now that I’ve read this book before, perhaps a little over a year ago. Winter, book #4, came out recently, so I figured I’d go ahead and reread the series.

Mild spoilers ahead.

Book title: I sense a pun on the word “Cinder.” Actually, late in the novel, antagonist Queen Levana points it out pretty nicely (though I think she kind of misses the point). Anyway, Cinder is, of course, short for Cinderella (the fairy tale that the novel is based off of), but I think Cinder can also refer to the spark, how one person can make all the difference.

Cover: Android leg with Cinderella-esque synopsis? Eye catching. Plus, I love how most of the colors are pretty low-key (you’ve got the white-lettered title, the peach-colored skin, and even a light blue and black as background) and then you’ve got this bold, bloodred shoe. Another hint, I’m guessing, at the original fairy tale.

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Synopsis:

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

Onto the story:

I don’t think Cinder even tries to hides its origins. But it doesn’t feel like just another Cinderella retelling. You’ve got the evil stepmother, and the two stepsisters. You’ve got a prince, and a ball. You’ve got a girl who just wants out, to escape. Yet that’s where the similarities end, because this story is set in the future and you just kind of have to love it.

The setting is presumably several hundred years into the future. I don’t think we’re given a specific date. But the moon’s been colonized (apparently for awhile now) and now houses a race called the Lunars. And the Lunars are an odd bunch. People on Earth either fear or hate them (or both), mostly because of Levana, queen of the Lunars. They can make you see and do what they want you to, provided they are within close proximity. The story itself takes place in New Beijing. It’s apparently a mixture of both ancient and modern, so the buildings imitate those made in our era or earlier but the material is made out of solar panels for energy. And, of course, what sci-fi would be without hover cars and wrist-implant ID chips?

Not everything’s fine and dandy, though. The world is struggling against a plague called letumosis – this fact is made even eerier because it’s mentioned right from the start. Kids are singing “Ring around the rosie” in the streets. The emperor himself has just fallen sick.

As for the characters, I loved Cinder. I thought Kai was sweet, although I’ll talk more about him later. I absolutely loved Iko, and hated Adri for scorning her “damaged” personality chip. I also loved how Peony (younger stepsister) wasn’t evil, although stepmother Adri more than made up for it. She was the Lunar Chronicle equivalent of Harry Potter’s Dolores Umbridge, a deplorable woman who seemed to have no reason for being deplorable. Pearl (older stepsister) was a bit of a jerk, but she mostly kept to herself. Even knowing what happened with Cinder’s story line, I was on an emotional rollercoaster. There were a lot of frowny-faces and broken hearts drawn in the journal that I’ve recorded my reactions in.

I will say that the Kai/Cinder romance, however cute, just didn’t click with me. As Cinder points out, nothing can really happen between them. Princes have to marry for diplomatic reasons. He’s basically just leading her on, even though nothing can really happen. Cinder says he’d likely be willing to breach the social-status gap, but not the cyborg gap, but I think even that’s pushing it. Emperors don’t have the opportunity to marry who they love, even in sci-fi novels where  the lines between the rich and poor are slightly blurred.

Overall, I think the story was almost as good (if not as good) as the first time I read it. I’d rate it a 4.0 stars, for its ingenuity and lovely characters and for the writing itself.

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