Friday, April 20, 2012

Space Age Cinderella: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Once upon a time, in a distant future where Earth's borders and technologies have shifted after a devastating Fourth World War, a young orphaned cyborg named Cinder trudges through life trapped under the thumb of her unkind stepmother.  Cinder, who holds a lesser place in society because her human body has been augmented with robotic parts, happens to be one of the best mechanics in New Beijing but she never expected that her reputation would lead the handsome heir to the throne,  Prince Kai, to visit her booth at the market and ask for her help fixing a broken android.  Then the mysterious and deadly plague sweeping the nation infects two very important people: Prince Kai's father, the emperor, and Cinder's beloved younger stepsister Peony.  Suddenly Cinder becomes intimately involved in the dangerous international and interplanetary struggle for power that forces her to dive into her unknown past and its connections to the plague and the entire future of the planet Earth.

I first came across this futuristic Cinderella retelling when I signed up for the 2012 Young Adult & Middle Grade Debut Authors Challenge and began browsing around the connected Goodreads list.   The premise alone was enough to get me interested: Cinderella is a cyborg with a dark past in a future Chinese-influenced empire? Sign me up!

Generally, Cinder lives up to its fun premise.  It combines popular sci-fi/futuristic fiction concepts (another world war, cyborgs, interplanetary/alien communication, unknown plagues, etc.) with the ever popular fairy or folk tale retelling.  The result is a fresh and enjoyable novel with broad appeal to a variety of readers.  The setting of New Beijing is unusual and absorbing, combining elements from different time periods and cultures in a way that fits into the version of the future Meyer has sketched out.  The traditional fairytale royal family and special ball seem a little out of place in a world where cyborgs and robots exist and the government is negotiating with a civilization from another planet but somehow it works.  Cinder is a lovely protagonist, determined and smart but also vulnerable and intensely aware of her subhuman status in society.  The mystery of the plague and its connections to Cinder and the extraterrestrial Lunars are full of exciting, if occasional predictable, twists and turns.  Overall, a delightful debut novel that will have all your fantasy, fairytale, and dystopian fans begging for the sequel!


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