While I enjoy young adult series for the most part, in the wake of The Hunger Games I’ve had a hard time finding one that felt as carefully plotted and well-executed. I thought the Divergent trilogy would fit the bill but the final installment was such a tremendous disappointment in execution that I’ve been a bit disheartened. I thought Cinder, the first installment of the Lunar Chronicles, was promising but Scarlet (the second book) left me wary. Having finally gotten up the courage to read Cress (Book 3), I’m completely excited to pre-order my copy of Winter (Book 4 due out this November).
Scarlet saw Cinder break out of prison along with fellow-inmate Carswell Thorne before eventually meeting up with Scarlet Benoit and the genetically enhanced ex-Lunar operative, Wolf. With all of them aboard Thorne’s ship, the Earthen Union stands on the brink of war with Queen Levana so Emperor Kai agrees to marry her. Cress picks up right where Scarlet left off with the formal introduction of Cress, the hacker Cinder spoke with briefly in the first book. Adding Rapunzel to the litany of fairy tales The Lunar Chronicles tackles, Cress has been kept imprisoned in a satellite orbiting Earth for the last seven years. Her only visitor is one of Queen Levana’s closest henchwomen, Thaumaturge Mira, who has had Cress hacking, programming, and infiltrating every Earthen system to glean information while protecting Lunar interests; along the way, Cress has developed a sympathy for Earth and in fact has been covertly aiding Cinder in her escape. When Cinder reaches out to Cress once more, Cress immediately agrees to help if Cinder and her crew will free her from her satellite. The rescue plan – and the larger plans for preventing Levana from taking over Earth – hit a snag when Thaumaturge Mira arrives at Cress’ satellite minutes before Cinder.
I had a difficult time with the way the narrative of Scarlet alternated between Scarlet and Cinder but the alternating narrative focuses worked much better – at least, in my opinion – in Cress. Perhaps because it switched more frequently and there were more narrative focuses in the mix; beyond Cinder and the other “heroes’” perspectives, the reader starts to get a closer look at Thaumaturge Mira and Queen Levana as characters. It might be as simple as the fact that there was less Scarlet in this book or that I find Cress’ backstory to be more interesting.
The characters’ different personalities really shine through in this installment as they face unexpected separation and other challenges to their previously tenuous plans. It’s interesting – and surprisingly relatable – to see how something so disruptive can wind up making the path forward clearer. It isn’t until after the loose plan Cinder’s allies have gets shot to Hell and more immediate challenges are placed in their path and overcome that they begin truly functioning as a cohesive unit. While it’s hardly an original concept (it was at the very heart of the first Avengers movie and even then it wasn’t new), Meyer’s careful plotting and characterization work together beautifully. The novel’s climax has a satisfactory confrontation even though the reader knows it’s only an appetizer.
I haven’t been this excited to pre-order the next book in a young adult series since Allegiant was announced but given the level of detail and care taken in Cress, I am confident Winter won’t be as great a disappointment as Allegiant – even if it will be incorporating Snow White which happens to be one of my least favorite fairy tales.