Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Cinder

Cinder, Marissa Meyer 

ISBN13: 9780312641894

387 pages, Hardcover

Series: Lunar Chronicles (#1)

Summary (from Goodreads): Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, the 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.

My Thoughts: This book definitely falls solidly within the YA boundary and as far as fairytale retellings go, the sci-fi/cyborg aspect was a nice addition. I thought the writing was better than many similar books. While I was reading it, I was really enjoying it and I had a hard time putting it down. (I didn't guess the ending right away, but I had inklings.) I will most likely read the next in the series to see how it develops. When I first rated it on Goodreads I gave it 5 stars.

After rating it, I was perusing some reviews on Goodreads and came across Tatiana's review on The Readventurer. After thinking over her comments on the book's weaknesses, I had to agree with her: Marissa Meyer may have bitten off more than she could chew. Tatiana makes several good points. Most importantly, Meyer doesn't delve very deeply into any of the more interesting aspects of traditional world-building in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Meyer doesn't spend much time on how Cinder views herself--as a cyborg in a human world. She doesn't give a thorough enough explanation of the Lunar people. We are told that they were once human, and but what triggered this divergent evolution? Certainly, there is so much possibility in these questions. The Lunar Queen is clearly a villain, she had no qualms about killing off her family to gain the throne, but what are her deeper motivations? Tatiana's point about Meyer's lack of description of New Beijing culture is also well-taken. It is hinted at that there are similarities and throwbacks to "present-time" Eastern culture, but no explanation as to why or how much or reasons why things have changed. I also think that the lack of political world-building will become problematic in the future books, which are clearly being set up for more political conflict over personal conflict. The scenes with Earth's other political players are particularly unenlightening. So, from this perspective, we are definitely left wanting more, so I understand why Tatiana gave it a low rating.

For me, these flaws didn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. Rightly or wrongly, this lack of world-building is pretty typical of YA contributions to the sci-fi/fantasy genre (there are, of course, outliers) and the focus on plot is certainly typical of most "commercial" fiction. So, standing against comparable books, I think that Meyer's unique retelling the Cinderella story, along with pretty decent writing, still warrant this book at least a 4 out of 5.

But all of this brings me to my recent, and growing complaint, about the publishing industry's devotion to series (and the potential money it can bring in). This book could have easily been written as a stand-alone. Cinder's gradual revelations about herself could have easily sustained a novel and made for a dramatic conclusion--one that didn't have to rely on the promise of more books to come. The tendency for authors to plan plot arcs over a series of books, often leaves us, the readers, feeling gypped in the short run. It's as if Meyer couldn't focus on developing Cinder's character because she has a war to plan in later books.

Not every story should be a sweeping epic. Not every story is going to be the next Harry Potter. This, I think, is a perfect example of a story that would have been perfect in one novel. Meyer could have spent more time developing ideas--instead of waiting to do it in future books (which is the sense the book left me with in the end).

I don't like to change my ratings once I've made them, but having reconsidered the book from this perspective I am giving it:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Recommended for: fans of YA sci-fi/fantasy, YA dystopian, fairytale retellings

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