Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer

Linh Cinder may be the best mechanic in New Beijing, but that fact brings her no happiness. First, all of her wages--and everything else she owns--belong to her stepmother. Secondly, if the reason for Cinder's technological genius got out, she would be taken away with all the other cyborgs.

Cinder's cyborg nature becomes a hidden blessing. She is immune to the plague which ravages the rest of New Beijing, from the slums and junkyards all the way to the royal palace where the Emperor lies dying. In his stead, Prince Kai tries to find a cure for the plague while keeping the devious Lunar Queen at bay. He finds an unlikely ally in Cinder. But can his trust in her be returned?

2 out of 5 stars
(grump + breakdown below the cut)

I love fairy tales, as I've mentioned. I love retellings of the same. I love cyberpunk and settings that step outside Western cliches. 

With all that in mind, I was really excited to read Cinder.

Alas, dear reader! This book has all the splendor of soggy tissue paper.

Out of the many sloppy ingredients that make up this vague and unmemorable stew, the fairy tale elements are actually the worst. I would have been interested to see more of this cyberpunk New Beijin, which could have been a sparkling new setting for YA fiction. Cinder's role in society as a second-class citizen, quite literally less than human, nothing more than a curiously animate household appliance in her stepmother's eyes--that was rich grounds for character development and conflict. But while Meyer sets up a slew of good ideas, few of them ever come to fruition. 

The biggest stumbling block to character engagement or the development of an organic and engaging plotline is Meyer's slavish adherence to the Cinderella story. Why is there a prince? Why is there a ball? Because the fairy tale demands it, of course! With every ham-handed Cinderella reference Meyer crams in (orange pumpkin car!), my connection to the book dwindled.

Oh, but she's not just Cinderella... She's also Snow White, the fairest of them all, unfairly hunted by her evil queen stepmom! At which point I nearly threw the book, and only the fact that I was already sprawled at the pool kept me reading.

The one detail that I liked was Cinder limping along on a cyborg foot she has long since outgrown--the "tiny shoe" that will fit no one else. That was the only place where I felt the cyberpunk setting, character potential, and fairy tale trappings came together in harmony. A story that had more of these subtle touches, rather than a lockstep adherence to tradition, would have made for a richer and more delightful read.

I'm aware that the Cinder kicks off an entire series of cyberpunk moon-themed fairy tales, collectively called "The Lunar Chronicles." (Rapunzel has already made a blatant and unnecessary cameo in Cinder.) I'm going to have to give the series a pass. With Cinder as an introduction, I have little faith in Meyer's ability to tell an engaging story--fairy tale or not.

Complexity of Writing: 2/5
Quality of Writing: 2/5
Strength of Characterization: 1/5
Logic of Plot Development: 1/5
Evocation of Setting: 2/5
Effectiveness of Pacing: 2/5
Resolution of Conflict: 2/5
Emotional Engagement: 1/5
Mental Engagement: 1/5
Bechdel Test: pass
Diverse Cast:  pass
Content Warning: child abuse, medical trauma

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