087 – Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Purchase Cinder at Amazon.com 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.
Soooo Cinder, finally read it, yaaaaaay. I got an ARC of it back when, well, they were giving out ARCs and just let it sit, first because so much shit to read, man, and then because I didn’t have the energy or inclination to deal with another Stormdancer. But now, you know, wounds have healed and I’m trying to clear out my backlogged TBR shelf, and it’s the first pick of the Chez Book Club, so why not start with this one? And hey, ultimately Cinder wasn’t as painful as I was sort of anticipating.

On the other hand, it wasn’t exactly a thrill ride, either. Ugh, the meh books are the worst. Fuck it, BULLETPOINT TIME!

  • Cyborg Cinderella is cool
  • I found the ideas and aesthetic behind Cinder very appealing. It’s difficult to resist the allure of a female cyborg mechanic protagonist, and the cyberpunk look is never a hard sell for me. Even when the story and I were not getting along, the cyborg bits (very Ghost in the Shell, btw) would pop up to remind me that this was a really neat concept. On-retina computer displays, hollow compartments in limbs, the whole cyber-foot-as-glass slipper bit, that was all pretty clever and fun to visualize. Likewise, Moon People, political unrest and maneuvering, “bio electric manipulation” that you have to use lest ye go crazy, I’m down with all of that. Let’s do it, let’s go.

  • But it Doesn’t Really Go Anywhere
  • This entire novel reads like an extended prelude. Like a 400-page 0.1 book. It is all set-up, almost zero pay-off, and the ending isn’t so much a cliffhanger as it is a “Well, that’s like 400 pages double-spaced, right? Fuck it, the end” situation. There’s this giant missing piece, and I can’t settle on a way to feel about the story because it doesn’t really end. Nothing gets wrapped up, and Cinder doesn’t even get much of an arc out of it, because she only discovers that completely obvious twist that establishes her place in this story going forward in the last chapter. It’s just wholly unsatisfying in the most disconcerting way. And I get the whole “First in a trilogy quartet” thing, I’m aware that first books almost always grapple with this issue a bit. They have to set shit up, get shit going, and I didn’t expect the Moon Government to fall in book one, okay, but there is so much unnecessarily slow build that we BARELY get in to first gear before we’re told the ride is over. It’s not impossible to give a first book it’s own conflict and resolution, and I will always prefer that to Book-Sized Chapter One.

    Seriously, the beats that this novel hits are the exact same beats most other books knock out by the halfway point.

  • The Obvious Twist is Obvious
  • It is so fucking obvious, WHY, WHY did Cinder only find out about it in the last chapter? We knew in the first! Fuck, most readers would probably know after reading the flap summary, are you kidding me?

    Actually, scratch that, I know why.

  • The Plot Says So
  • One of my least-favorite reasons for things to happen in any book! Seriously, though, that is the only reason I can think for Cinder not to find out about her Lunar heritage around the hundred-page mark. Moon-Russian Scientist Guy knows everything from basically the moment he finds her, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t just tell her everything, especially after Levana comes to town. But he doesn’t, because if he did, then a) Cinder wouldn’t do the astoundingly stupid thing that sets off this installment’s climax that resolves basically nothing, and b) we would then be able to skip to the interesting part, which is presumably in the next book.

  • Oppressed Cyborgs
  • Ugh, cyborgs and Lunars as metaphors for oppressed people. Because stories about actual oppressed people are just way too mundane, amirite?

    That aside, I can understand in-world distrust of Lunars, since the general populace thinks they are legitimately scarily magical or whatever, but why do people hate cyborgs? Did I miss that part? Do we find out later? Because here, it’s just some fantastic racism that excuses those horrible Asian people being mean to the ethnically ambiguous Cinder.

  • Asian Setting, Ambiguous Lead
  • I’m still not quite clear on why Cinder couldn’t just have been Asian, or why the author apparently isn’t even sure of what she looks like? I thought that was a thing most authors hammered out pretty quick.

    Also, there’s a pretty marked lack of exploration of the cultural part of the setting, which could be an issue for some people, but for my part, I’m mostly just grateful it wasn’t another Stormdancer.

  • Bitches, Man
  • So out of like six prominent female characters, four are evil bitches out to steal Cinder’s man and/or kill/oppress her, and the two who aren’t evil bitches die or are incapacitated. Meanwhile, Cinder’s two living allies? Menfolk. NATURALLY.

    I will grant that it’s possible that as Cinder goes around collecting her Sailor Scouts that this gets remedied and we get a kick-ass, ethnically diverse team of ladies, but this first book gets off to pretty a piss-poor start TBH.

  • Levana vs Cinder
  • I’ll be curious to see where this one goes, and how Levana – and other emerging female characters – are contrasted to Cinder and among themselves. It is entirely possible that they’ll develop the cast in to a rainbow representation of the different ways girls and women can be girls and women. As it stands right now, however, the book tends toward ew-girly-feminine-bad/masculine-butch-stuff-good. Fucking Levana, OH MY GOD. This woman is weaponized femininity on cyberpunk steroids, using her (fake) beauty and totes-not-magical powers to manipulate people’s – especially men’s – desire for her. That skank.

    Our heroine Cinder, on the other hand, rolls around in dirt and grease, doesn’t pay too much attention to her appearance – but cleans up nice, natch – is very pointedly not in to the teenage girly things her sisters are, and works in a typically masculine field. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

  • Blandy McBland Bland Characters
  • TBH I found both Cinder and her love interest to be kind of weak. They were really awesome as concepts – cyborg mechanic! young emperor with the weight of a nation on his shoulders! but did not make a lasting impression, personality-wise.

    The only character I actually found memorable was Moon Russian Doctor Erland, and that’s only because he seemed like he might actually be evil and/or insane. He did some legit fucked-up shit to find Cinder, and I’m disappointed that that was yet ANOTHER interesting thing dropped in the last chapter that did not get a chance to see be dealt with by either character.

  • Then There Was This Fuckin’ Line

  • Queen Levana would come for her, and she would be executed. That was her fate. She’d been resolved to it. She’d been prepared for it. Not to be an heir. Not to be a queen or a savior or a hero.

    It would be so simple to let it happen. So simple to not fight back.

    Amid the jumbled information clattering through her head, her thoughts landed on that same quiet moment captured in time.

    Kai’s carefree smile at the market.
    […] If she didn’t try to stop Levana, what would happen to Kai?
    Sigh. Two entire worlds on the brink of war, an entire family dead, and an evil queen out to kill her, and Cinder’s deciding issue is “What will happen to the boy I like?”


    Iunno Cinder, you could also like, maybe also consider escaping for your own benefit? I feel like you should be a bigger fan of not dying, personally.

  • That Being Said
  • I like the idea that we ended on, of Cinder learning to become a Queen. Like, an actual politics-and-ruling-people Queen. That’s a nifty challenge that you don’t encounter a whole lot. I’m not talking like what forks to use at the royal dinner party or how to waltz, I mean like hardcore how-do-you-take-care-of-an-entire-nation-of-people type shit. Cinder knows nothing about the Lunars, in fact, all she really even knows of are sketchy stereotypes, and while theoretically she should be a better Queen than tyrant Levana, you can get in to just as much trouble as a nation with an untrained idiot at the helm. So you know. Here’s to her not just magically being a good Queen because BLOODLINES.

    And also to agency! The book ended with some agency. Let’s have more of that.

So yeah, I will probably continue on with the series at some point, because I do want to see where it goes, but TL;DR Cinder was not perfect. It has some good ideas and a neat aesthetic and a lot of potential, but there are some sketchy racial issues and some sketchy gender issues and a slow-ass plot that barely gets going before we hit the end credits.

Hopefully Red will be more interesting.

Two ****AND A HALF***** stars

Two Stars


2 Responses

  1. Halcyon Daze

    June 2, 2014 3:35 pm, Reply

    Love your review. This book was a disappointment for me to, and I was surprised by all the positive reviews it got. I don’t think it was terrible by any stretch, but it felt rather mediocre. Like you said, the twist was super predictable – in fact, it was so predictable that I thought there was going to be some other twist subverting it. Leavana was a pretty one-dimensional villain, but hopefully she’ll be fleshed out in future books.

    The worldbuilding was pretty weak. It seemed like the author threw a bunch of cool-sounding concepts (cyborgs! moon people! royalty!) and just slapped them in. The whole Asian setting rubbed me the wrong way, too. It’s not as bad as Stormdancer levels (from what I’ve read about it), but it still stumbles. For example, there’s a Japanese named emperor in charge of a pan-Asian empire, which has really terrible implications if you know anything about Japanese imperialism against other Asian countries. And there’s Vietnamese named people running around in China? Also mentions of stuff like dumplings and geisha that made roll my eyes – pretty obvious that the author didn’t do research and just picked out a bunch of random “cool” Asian (aka stereotypical) stuff as flavoring rather than do actual worldbuilding about how Asian countries actually are. Again, not Stormdancer terrible, but still sketchy.

    I’ve read the sequel Scarlet and while it was superior to Cinder, it still fell flat for me. It’s set in France (which is portrayed in a non-stereotypical way) and it introduces a couple new female characters. But it’s still really predictable. In fact, the whole quartet is predictable. But I guess that’s part of the reason people like, and that’s fine.

    • Cyna Cyna

      June 3, 2014 4:24 pm, Reply

      *brofist of solidarity* Thanks. And boo for predictable books, man. I’d hoped the story would get its stuff together with the sequels. Does it at least move the plot forward a bit better? I’d hate to end up with two books worth of plot and then two books of filler.

      For example, there’s a Japanese named emperor in charge of a pan-Asian empire, which has really terrible implications if you know anything about Japanese imperialism against other Asian countries.
      I had not even thought of that, but wow yeah you’ve got a point. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were right, though, the whole united Asian empire thing is a pretty handy cover for taking the cultural buffet route in terms of world-building.

      But it’s the wonderful amalgamated future~ so I guess silly things like that don’t matter anymore. There are cyborgs and Lunars to oppress!

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