My Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
Amazon Rating: 4.50 / 5.00
Goodreads Rating: 4.06 / 5.00
Linh Cinder is a cyborg, with a mechanical hand and leg as well as some really interesting internal wiring that gives her a retinal display amongst other useful features. This makes her a second-class citizen in the city of New Beijing, where the part-mechanicals are barely tolerated and always run the risk of being ‘chosen’ to help the government in its research for a cure for the plague that kills everyone who becomes infected, including the current Empreor. Her past is a mysterious blank and she is a virtual slave to her evil stepmother, who hates Cinder but is quite content to take all the money that she earns to support the family. Her stepfather is dead and her only comforts are the friendship of one of her two stepsisters and Iko, her outmoded and strangely personality-ridden android.
Then, one day, Prince Kai brings a malfunctioning android to her store to be repaired and her life suddenly becomes very, very complicated. Her beloved stepsister becomes infected and Cinder is found to be immune to the disease’s ravages. Could she be the source of the cure and why is the Lunar Queen so eager to force Prince Kai into a wedding? Somehow, Cinder must try to save her sister without drawing too much attention to herself whilst wrestling with her growing attraction to the gorgeous Prince.
Knowing that this title was meant to be a reworking of the Cinderella tale, I have to admit that I was concerned that it would be too derivative. Yes, I know that I had read lots of glowing reviews, but I was still a little wary. However, I did not need to be concerned because the structure of the old fairy tale has been seamlessly worked into a fresh, new Science Fiction world whilst keeping the traditional elements very understated. I thoroughly enjoyed it and had only one minor complaint, but I will get to that later after I have waxed lyrical about the aspects that I really enjoyed.
Cinder herself is a wonderful heroine. She is competent, caring and complex, making poor decisions for the right reasons and always fighting for what she believes to be right. She is strong, independent and feisty, but not in an irritatingly teenage “me-against-the-world” kind of way. She is simply hard working and dogmatic, doing what she can to keep her family going and trying to get some small enjoyment out of her very restricted life. I was very pleasantly surprised that her relationship with the prince was not the usual overly sweet confection that I find so annoying in some YA novels. Yes, she is mesmerized by his handsome awesomeness from the very start, but he is the most famous bachelor in the city, so that is not all that surprising: I might be a bit flummoxed if Johnny Depp turned up at my stall to ask for help! :D
Prince Kai himself is a lot more interesting than the standard two-dimensional pretty boy providing the love interest. He is drawn to Cinder because she is so different from the other people that he has met, but he is totally capable of placing the needs of his country above his own feelings. We see him struggling with the imminent death of his father, which comes with the added burden of knowing that he will need to take over as the ruler of almost half the world. Rather than stomping around like a typical lovelorn teenager, he conducts himself with great decorum and self-control, which was refreshing to see.
The only character that I struggled with was the evil stepmother. I never really felt as if we were given a suitable reason for her selfish behavior and mistreatment of Cinder: she was simply ‘evil’. Given that Cinder’s identity could have caused her husband’s death, I was expecting an explanation about why she hated the girl so much. I felt that this omission was a shame, because all the other characters were so well drawn and acted within understandable parameters, even the androids.
This brings me to Iko, Cinder’s faithful, and delightfully eccentric, android. She was such a wonderful sidekick and so beautifully created that her ultimate fate was very moving and made me cry. Perhaps I am just a sucker for crazy individualists, but I really loved her and felt fear for her when the stepmother was being angry and violent. I would not say that she fulfilled the role of a dog, because she could communicate and was very human in her quirkiness, but she certainly had that emotional feel to her: totally loyal to Cinder and unendingly brave in her support.
The setting was very well done, with a futuristic setting that felt entirely possible. The Earth has been through two more World Wars and part of the population moved to the Moon many generations ago. These Lunars are now very different from the other humans, with highly developed mental powers, so that they can control normal humans very easily and cast glamors to alter their appearance. The ability for humans to replace body parts is a very natural progression from modern prosthetics and the addition of very personal Wi-Fi was an interesting extrapolation from the present. It also made perfect sense that appearance-conscious humans would not be very tolerant of those individuals who show obvious mechanical additions: we see exactly the same bias against disabilities in modern societies.
However, I did have a slight problem with the geopolitical structure of this future Earth. There were now five powers in the world: the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and the United Kingdom. It is this last one that caused me problems. As a Brit, I was very surprised that the UK had not joined Europe, but had somehow managed to remain independent during two World Wars. This seemed highly unlikely to me, especially as it is no longer the power that it was, even before World War II. Perhaps the author thinks that the UK is adamantly anti-Europe, but that is most definitely not true, and would certainly not be true in a war setting: we joined both World Wars to defend continental Europe against the German threat, not because we were actually invaded. No doubt the idea that we would be next in the move to conquer the whole of Europe was a factor, but we could have stayed out of the fighting and remained neutral, like Ireland and Switzerland did. I was also dismayed by the choice of ‘Camilla’ as the name for the Queen: I was not sure if this was supposed to be some sort of joke about the present Duchess of Cornwall or a hint that Charles’ ancestors had come to accept her name as appropriate. Either way, it was in poor taste and made me wince because the relationship between Camilla and Charles has caused a lot of strife for the Royal Family.
Moving past that very minor problem, I enjoyed the story very much and it kept me turning the pages. I was caught up by the plot and carried along with barely a bump as it moved swiftly along. The pacing was pretty much spot on, with enough time given to world building and description that I had a good mental image of the world and its inhabitants. In the end, we reach a reasonable conclusion, although this is the first in a series, so there are plenty of issues that remained unresolved. I was so caught up with the story telling that I immediately bought the second novel, Scarlet, and the two short stories that the author has published: Glitches, which is set before Cinder, and The Queen’s Army, which fits between books one and two. I am eager to find time to read them.
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I read this title as part of a whole heap of challenges: