Cinder is the first in the Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer, a dystopian young adult series. Set in New Beijing, this is a Cinderella story retelling – with a twist. Our protagonist Cinder is not your average girl, in fact, she’s not a girl at all, she’s a Cyborg. After a terrible accident at the age of eleven, Cinder was left part human, part machine; but her history is shrouded in mystery and there are secrets to be uncovered.
When Prince Kai of New Beijing visits a mechanic’s workshop seeking the city’s best mechanic, he finds Cinder, not at all what he was expecting. Little did they know that this meeting would irrevocably change both of their lives and they’d find themselves in the middle of an intergalactic struggle.
Cyborgs, androids, lunars, the plague – by all accounts this story just shouldn’t work. But it does. There’s a mishmash of half a dozen different individual plot points that one would never think of putting together for they would make a truly absurd story. Yet, here we have Cinder that does exactly that, but instead of being completely bonkers, it presents a story full of plot twists in a new world.
Cinder is a fantastic female protagonist that you will be rooting for from start to finish. She is deemed a second-class citizen because she is a Cyborg and her step mother will never let her forget it. Her step sisters have never had to work a day in their lives and their main focus is the royal ball. Meanwhile, Cinder spends every day stuck in her workshop, scraping pennies together for the whole family, but she doesn’t resent her sisters for this. Of course, Cinder would love to go to the ball (who wouldn’t?!), but she’s not obsessed with it at all. She’s accepted her lot in life and knows that pretty dresses and princes aren’t for her. This is the story of a hardy and head strong girl who is fighting for her freedom, not trying to tie herself down.
I love that there’s a nod to feminism in this story as Cinder is the most successful female mechanic in the city, amongst all the other girls who seem to just be vying for the prince’s attention. Certainly Cinder’s step mother is very focussed on how her daughters look and how that affects their ability to find a suitably rich husband. Cinder is the breadwinner of the family, singlehandedly supporting her poor family, but she is also kind and just, which makes her richer than her step mother will ever be. She is always willing to help those in need, but also seems unaware of just how kind and special she is, making you love her even more.
There is an element of romance in this story as Cinder starts to fall for the prince, but this is not at all the focal point of the story, which was a relief for me. There is nothing more annoying than a story in which the be all and end all is whether or not the boy gets the girl. Or in this case, the cyborg. I suspect the romance will be developed much more in the later books, but I am glad that the focus of the first novel was Cinder and her plight, rather than a teen romance.
One of the things that I loved most about Cinder is that it was set in New Beijing and not the US or the UK. I will admit there is a lot more diversity in books now than there used to be but we are still sorely lacking books set in non-Western countries in my opinion. Admittedly, the fact that we are in New Beijing doesn’t seem to have a huge impact on the plot bar the fact that many characters have Chinese names, but it is a step in the right direction. Chinese culture definitely could have been integrated into this novel a lot more, which I would have really enjoyed (Asians ftw!), but it was refreshing nevertheless to read a story set in a completely different place. And, you know, the Cyborgs and stuff.
I’m a sucker for fairy-tale retellings, which are becoming increasingly popular, and Cinder is definitely one of the best I have ever read. Cinderella with a sci-fi twist is something special and will keep you guessing with every page you turn. This is a truly unique fairy-tale retelling that does more than just tell another Cinderella story. This is the story of an outcast girl, desperately seeking freedom. She just happens to meet a prince along the way.
Other fairy-tale retellings:
Have you read the Lunar Chronicles? Does this sound like something you’d like to read? Let me know in the comments below!