So after a decent break from YA science fiction/dystopic fiction, I finally took the plunge on a new series by reading Cinder by Marissa Meyer (it took a lot to resist the urge to just reread the Hunger Games especially with the first Mockingjay movie coming out later this week). But I found Cinder to be a promising start to the Lunar Chronicles series and will definitely put the second and third installments on my To Read list. More science fiction than most of the YA series I’ve read in recent years, it appeals to another of my favorite trends: twists on fairy tales.
Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing in the Eastern Commonwealth. She’s also a cyborg and, even if cyborgs weren’t looked down upon, her stepmother/guardian would be sure to make her feel that way. Cinder is understandably shocked when the crown prince, Kai, shows up to ask her to fix his personal android. But she doesn’t have long to enjoy the moment because her younger stepsister falls ill with the same plague that threatens the lives of everyone on earth including New Beijing’s dying emperor. Cinder is thrust into the mission to find a cure for the disease as the loathed and lethal Queen Levana from the colonized moon, Luna, holds the Commonwealth and all of Earth on the edge of war, threatening to enslave them as she has her own people, the Lunars.
One of the most difficult things to do in science fiction and dystopic fiction is creating a believable world. Extrapolating from the problems in the world today to create a future that makes sense with all of the intricacies of societal, political, environmental, and technological issues and advancements (fantasy has its own issues since you’re often starting completely from scratch). The society and political aspects of this first Lunar Chronicles installation are very well developed. The technological are impressive as well, though elements of the Lunar people and their technology remain shrouded (but I’m confident they’ll feel more developed as I get further in the series).
It’s the political and societal sides of the world at hand that most effectively convey the messages relevant to today’s world and the target YA audience. The balance of power and how the nations of the Earth and Luna interact are a simplified model of government systems but I’m hopeful for their future development given the role they promise to play in the storyline overarching the series. Where Cinder speaks strongest is on the cyborg issue and its portrayal of human rights issues. As medical technology advances, we’re getting closer and closer to seeing mechanized prosthetics like the ones in Cinder. So where is the line between being considered human and being considered machine? Should cyborgs have the same rights as whole humans? The questions of personhood and who has the right to make decisions regarding an individual’s body are complicated in the novel because of Cinder’s age but the emotional impact of such divisive issues resonate with the current discussions of gender, sexuality, and race in the nation (and the world) today.
There are elements of the plot that are completely predictable (the big twist at the end is the most predictable “surprise” I’ve probably ever read but, weirdly, it didn’t bother me). It’s always fun to see how an author works in the nods to the original fairy tale(s) when twisting them in new ways. I look forward to seeing them when I get a chance to read the second installment, Scarlet.