Author: Marissa Meyer
Publication Date: 1/3/12
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Blurb (GR): 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.
Let me first give credit where credit is due. A cyborg Cinderella? Wow! It's a bold premise. I applaud Marissa Meyer for thinking this up.
In this re-envisioning of the fairy tale, Lihn Cinder is a cyborg, meaning, she is almost half mechanical - she has prosthetic hands and a foot, a big chunk of her internal organs are wired into her body. Cinder is a mechanic in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, a country ravaged by plague outbreaks. One day, the heir to the throne of the Commonwealth, Prince Kai, steps into Cinder's shop to get his android fixed, and everything changes for Cinder. She falls in love, she becomes a center of multiple intrigues, she discovers her own well hidden (even from her) secrets.
As much as I appreciate an author willing to think outside the box, I am afraid in this case Marissa Meyer bit off more than she could chew. The world of Cinder is very imaginative and full of potential. New Beijing, royalty, plague, cyborg falling in love, a war with the Lunar (Moon) Empire. I mean, just think about the possibilities here. Too bad, these possibilities are never explored to their best advantage.
Let's take Cinder, for example. She is almost half robot, there is stuff wired into her brain and body. Is she a human? Does she have artificial intelligence? Does she think of herself as human? How can she love? Are her emotions real or programmed? None of this is explained with any kind of depth. I compare this book to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and Cinder fails miserably.
How about the setting? New Beijing! Futuristic China! Is there any Chinese flavor in this story? Any infusion of Eastern cultures, customs? Not really.
Ok, maybe there is something to this Lunar business then? Who or what are these Lunar people? How did they get there? How do they live on the Moon? Why exactly are they at war with Earth? I still have no clue.
My general impression after finishing Cinder is that every good idea in this story is developed very superficially. It's like Cinder is... Ship Breaker's ugly cousin. What Paolo Bacigalupi managed to do in his fairly short book with great depth - the world ruined by environmental changes, genetically altered human beings, poverty - is all done here, but in the most shallow way, as if the author was determined to keep the plot moving at a break-neck pace, afraid that any paragraph spent on layering the world or characters' personalities would bore readers.
There is still some entertainments value in Cinder, and I did get all the way through it to find out how the story would unfold. (BTW, you can predict the novel's outcome at about page 50 and it all ends with a cliffhanger.) But the novel fails miserably at being thought-provoking, challenging or truly engaging, even though the ideas are all there. Squandered potential.