by Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl...
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I read the free, five-chapter sample of Cinder, and even though I thought I'd already figured out the major "twists" in the story, I was intrigued enough by what I read (and swayed by so many glowing reviews) that I bought the full book so I could find out if a) I was right about my suspicions regarding the plot, and b) if it was really worth the hype. I got clear answers on both counts. Yes, I was right. No, it wasn't worth the hype.
The premise really is a good one, setting the old story of "Cinderella" in a futuristic dystopian setting. Unfortunately, that setting was one of my main problems with this book. Despite the intriguing basic idea of a dystopian New Beijing, the world-building isn't strong enough. There were too many things that just didn't make sense. Ostensibly, this is Earth in the far distant future. How far distant, we're never told, as the years appear to be counted from the end of World War IV. Between now and then, humans have apparently colonized the moon, made advances in cybernetics, and figured out flying cars... but their lack of moral and emotional evolution is disturbing and never quite explained (although I guess that in itself could partially explain why they had a World War IV). I spent the whole time I was reading this book wondering what, exactly, was so bad about being a cyborg that Cinder had to whine about it and have continual pity parties about it. A cyborg has, for whatever reason, artificial body parts in addition to human ones. After fighting two more world wars, this society doesn't seem to have cultivated much empathy or compassion for people with disabilities (and after two world wars, presumably there would have been quite a few). Why are they viewed as second-class citizens? This was never explained. Was it just so that Cinder could be viewed as an unworthy match for a prince? Was it some sort of commentary on the current attitudes toward the disabled in some parts of Asia (where the story takes place)? Even so, this is a far-future story. Why have attitudes stayed the same... and even gotten worse? Why does having an artificial body part make you less worthy of human rights? Why does having metal or plastic in your body turn you into something that can be owned? (People with pacemakers or artificial hips, beware!)
My second main complaint was with the characters. I just couldn't get a feel for them. As a result, I didn't really care about any of them. Aside from the cool things that Cinder could do because of her cybernetic implants, she really was unremarkable as a character. Yes, she's a mechanic. But how does she really feel about it? Why did she get into mechanics? What's her personality like? I read almost 400 pages about her, and I still feel like I don't know. I don't even know how she really felt about Kai. The problem is, she was too busy trying to avoid him and prevent him from finding out her secrets. In effect, she stayed pretty much a mystery for the reader as well... except for one important point, which was probably my biggest disappointment of all. I figured out the big twist at the 13% mark. I kept reading, kind of hoping I was wrong, but knowing with each heavy-handed hint that I wasn't. So I basically read the remaining 350 pages already knowing the ending. If you can call it that. If you were hoping for a happily ever after (as one would logically expect from a retelling of "Cinderella"), you'll be disappointed. Cinder ends right before the final act, and if we want any answers, we'll have to read the next book(s) in the series.
Overall, it wasn't a terrible book (in spite of what I've mentioned above), but it wasn't great and I probably won't be recommending it to anyone. With some more complete world-building, better character development, and final polish on the writing (there were some grammar/word choice issues that really should have been caught), this would have made an interesting addition to the fairytale retelling genre. I'm disappointed that it didn't live up to the hype, because this is one book that could have been really good.
Overall: 2.71 out of 5