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Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles

Cinder  - Marissa Meyer 3.5 starsI’d venture to say that the version of Cinderella most people of my generation (or thereabouts) were introduced to was Disney’s blonde, blue-dress-wearing wearing, rags-to-riches interpretation. I know that for most of my childhood I associated the name with animated mice, glass slippers and that ‘Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo’ song. Is it stuck in your head now? You’re welcome.But Cinderella’s roots lie centuries deeper, and forklore the world over is rich with variants on the story. Most carry the common thread of “unjust oppression / triumphant reward”, and the central elements and tropes have soaked down through the years, permeating today’s popular culture. The very name ‘Cinderella’ has become somewhat synonymous with the persecuted heroine archetype, an icon of changed fortune. The themes and messaging around this classic take on Cinderella are understandably not all that resonant with part of its modern audience. They’re less willing to see a young woman’s happiness so rigidly defined, and determined by the fortuitous existence of a fairy godmother and the flick of a magic wand. There is a clamour these days for characters (particularly female) with more agency, more control over their future. And possibly less dancing rodents. Cinder is a timely and welcome re-boot of the fairytale, with Meyer changing up the rather archaic elements for a futuristic setting and a much less passive approach to the central character. In this incarnation, Cinder is a cyborg, living in New Beijing and working as a mechanic. Under the legal guardianship of a cold and disdainful “stepmother”, Cinder is relegated to second-class status, good enough to bear of brunt of earning the family’s living, but unworthy of recognition as a true member of the family. In addition, Cinder faces prejudice due to the fact that she is a cyborg from her family, her community, even herself. The character of Cinder was quite possibly my favourite element of Marissa Meyer’s book. She’s an intelligent, resourceful and sharply funny young woman, who carries a wrench and isn’t afraid to use it. Her vulnerabilities are counterbalanced with her strength, just as she’s a blend of human and machine. And while a measure of chance and coincidence play into the events that unfold in Cinder’s life, she also makes choices, takes action. It’s this self-determination against the odds, (more so than her mechanical parts), that define Cinder as a modern Cinderella. I should also mention here Kai and Iko, whom I also liked immensely. Iko because she was adorable and cheeky, Kai because he was a refreshing take on the traditional “Prince”. It would have been incredibly easy for this character to be a cardboard cutout filling a cliché role, but Meyer crafts a genuinely likeable and interesting character who has great on-page presence and chemistry with Cinder. Round of applause here for this book taking the road of YA tropes less travelled, and building a budding relationship I was genuinely cheering for and invested in. Equally, I enjoyed the world that Cinder inhabited, and the cultural elements melded together to form the Eastern Commonwealth. There are some scenes in Cinder that are quite visual, and I loved the ideas Meyer put forward to describe her New Beijing. That said, I definitely feel that there was untapped potential here. Meyer scratches the surface of an intriguing concept, gives us glimpses of fascinating world, but I wanted more. More pictured, more explained, more utilised. Particularly in terms of the multi-cultural dynamic of the Eastern Commonwealth, which I can’t help but wish had been delved into more deeply. Alongside the futuristic makeover of the setting and characters, Cinder stays quite close to the original fairytale in terms of the plot. Meyer does twist a few points, and gives the story some shades of grey rather than formulaic black and white, but there aren’t really any major surprises. To this end the foreshadowing throughout Cinder is not always particularly subtle. I’m unsure whether the last big revelation of the book was intended to be a surprise, or whether Meyer wanted us to have guessed it in advance, but I can’t say I batted an eyelid at its exposure. Despite this, I still found Cinder inventive and engaging, and there is a lot of fun to be had within it’s covers. I enjoyed Meyer’s vision of the future and her re-imagined take on a classic tale, and I think the ground has been solidly laid for a strong, interesting follow up. An advance review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley