Book Report – Cinder: Throwing a Monkeywrench into Fairy Tales

Adding to a long line of fairy tale retellings is Marissa Meyer with Cinder, the first title of The Lunar Chronicles series. Although we’ve seen and heard the story of Cinderella many times in different forms and styles of creativity, Meyer’s may be the freshest idea yet. If you’ve come across the simple cover art of a woman’s lower leg adorned by a cherry-red, spike-heeled shoe, you may already have an inkling as to why Cinder isn’t your typical tale of a kind, beautiful maiden who eventually gets a happily-ever-after ending with her prince. For those of you looking for a romantic read filled with cute animals, mild adversity, and a straight-shot to a predictable ending, Cinder is most likely not for you. However, if you want a story with depth, filled with political intrigue, mystery, in-your-face realism, and an underlying hint of romance, read on… and mind the mild spoilers!

Cinder is set in the distant future (over a century after the Fourth World War, to be exact), when humans have finally achieved that age-old dream: world peace. However, all is not well on Earth, as mankind now faces two equally deadly adversaries: the Lunars, a magical species inhabiting Luna (Earth’s moon), who have been dallying on the edges of calling war; and an unyielding disease called Letumosis, a fever that is a death sentence and has been plaguing Earth for over a decade.

The story revolves around the titular female heroine, Cinder, who is like any other sixteen-year-old girl: she has hopes and dreams, strives to have a decent relationship with her family, is misunderstood by society, and is an intriguing mix of cynicism, strength, and vulnerability. Yet, while she may appear to be a normal teenager at first glance, she is far from it. When Cinder was but a wee child, she was in a horrific accident that left her augmented with robotic parts and a brain interface. Although her obvious augmentations (a mechanical hand and foot) are hidden by gloves and boots, most of society (including her stepmother and stepsister Pearl) shuns her for being an abomination, labelling her a Cyborg – basically, a ‘technological mistake.’

However, spurned though she might be, Cinder is still considered the best mechanic in all of New Beijing. With the help of her android, Iko, she runs a successful business, ensuring a roof over her head, as her income pays for her stepmother’s many bills. Interestingly enough, it’s her trade that brings Prince Kai to her market booth, seeking her help with his broken ‘nanny’ android. Although the prince jokes that it’s a ‘matter of national security,’ something about his behaviour indicates to Cinder that this machine is more important than he lets on.

This brings us to the story’s secondary protagonist: Prince Kai, the eligible bachelor that every girl in all the land swoons over. Unlike some iterations where Cinderella’s prince is just a handsome object of wishful thinking and not much else, Cinder’s prince has his own story, providing depth to this pretty face.

Prince Kai is next in line to be emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth, and with his father, Emperor Rikan, in the later stages of Letumosis, it seems that the heavy responsibility will soon pass to the young prince. However, Letumosis seems to be the least of his worries, as Queen Levana of Luna continues to threaten the uneasy truce between Luna and Earth. Every one of Earth’s leaders knows how dangerous the Lunars are, with their abilities to brainwash others and use glamour to change their appearances. The powerful queen is looking for the perfect opportunity to strike, and with Emperor Rikan on his death bed that time draws near. Soon, Prince Kai will have to face a difficult decision: continue to hold the dangerous Lunars at bay or agree to marry Queen Levana for the good of his people.

However, a third option may be presented to Prince Kai. When Cinder’s younger stepsister and friend, Peony, contracts Letumosis, their mother, Adri, signs over Cinder to the royal scientists for the ongoing antidote research, which is a death sentence in and of itself. But these tests reveal far more than what the lead scientist bargained for, and it is soon revealed that Cinder is not just a Cyborg mechanic. In fact, she may be the key to the prince’s – and Earth’s – salvation.

As you can see, Cinder is more than just a story about a girl who wants to go to the grand ball and dance with the attractive prince. Although it still has many of the elements of the original Cinderella fairytale, Cinder deals with much more serious issues: a prince’s responsibility to his people, self-esteem issues when faced with discrimination, the characters’ inner strength when confronted by adversity, and the depth of human fear of the unknown.

Cinder also provides a relatively sad commentary on mankind: we always marginalize the people we label as different. Even though Earth’s people in Cinder have overcome the issues of race and religion that seem to start modern-day wars, they’ve turned their hatred to a new breed of unknown: the Cyborgs, who are human at their core despite their mechanical interfacing or robotic limbs.

Marissa Meyer does a wonderful job of thrusting readers into an intriguing and riveting tale that is equal parts of sci-fi, intrigue, and romance. She paints a world that is easy to imagine; from the run-down, dystrophic inner-city slums to the beautiful palace, all of which are rife with Chinese culture. Although the ending is somewhat predictable, Meyer masterfully adds twists and turns along the way that make Cinder a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive read.

If you can’t find time to curl up with a book or e-reader, an audiobook version is also available. The unabridged Cinder has a running time of 10 hours, perfect for listening on your commute or even as a bedtime story for a week or two. The audio version is read by voice-actress Rebecca Soler, with precise enunciation and an ability to inject the right amount of emotion into the narrative as well as the characters’ voices. Soler is also able to give each character a slightly different voice, which is quite entertaining at times (i.e. Iko’s mechanical voice saying “I don’t compute,” or Cinder and Prince Kai’s bantering).

Although Cinder is listed as novel for teenagers, many adults would find this an entertaining read as well. The sheer depth of character and additional layers to a simple fairy tale makes this a worthwhile investment of both your time and money. Cinder receives a 5/5.

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