This has to be one of the hardest books for me to rate/review I've encountered since I discovered Goodreads (Booklikes came after). The reason for this is that it is, at the same time, one of the best written YA books I've come across in recent memory while conversely having the most predictable 'twists' I've ever seen.
Let me attempt to explain.
I've stalked this book on GR for several months as, on paper, I should love it. I love retelling/reimagings of fairy tales so much, so I couldn't wait to see the author's take on the overly familiar tale of Cinderella. Yet, I held back for a few reasons: YA, first book, cyborgs, New Beijing...and did I mention YA? Let me say, I like YA but especially lately, there has been an emphasis on supernatural, romance, quantity over quality, and little else. I've learned to approach new books in the genre with often justified caution. The last three reasons were worrisome more because I've seen new authors take on too many aspects and be left with little more than a mess; and I didn't have high hopes for retelling Cinderella with cyborgs in a believable basically cyberpunk Beijing could end in anything else.
I now stand corrected.
For a first book, Meyer created a compelling story that payed homage to many disparate genres and their nearly cliched tropes. Yet, she wove them together in a way that not only made sense but breathed life into cliches I've become all too familiar with. There are various reasons, some I'm not sure I can articulate, but I'll try.
One of the best parts of this book is the myriad of interesting characters you meet. Kai the prince and Cinder the adopted cyborg of the Lihn family are well rounded, developing, and interesting characters. Kai, though we only get a few glimpses into his thoughts, is a young man who while knowing his place in the world, it rests uneasy on him. His father's illness forces him to see beyond being merely a prince far earlier then he would like. He is also a likeable person, though not perfect; his heart however is in the right place. A good ruler and someone you want to be king.
Cinder is in many ways a character you have met many times before...and yet I couldn't help but like her. She's independent, yet longs for her family (other then her loving sister Peony) to notice, respect, maybe even lover her. And of course her android sidekick Iko, who is awesome. Cinder is strong - as a mechanic and as a person, yet she questions herself and cannot believe anything special about herself. She tries to remain aloof but cares about Peony's fate, the people of New Beijing, and even the family who hates her - like Andri. What really, I think, makes Cinder work as a character is that she's compelling. You get to spend a lot of time in her head, and surprisingly, it's rather enjoyable.
The other characters that populate this world, even down to a fellow stall holder in the marketplace, are interesting and given some form of dimension rather than a book of cardboard cutouts. Often the author gives each character a chance to show a side of themselves beyond the part the plot has them play. Even one of the 'villains' Andri is given a moment or two.This makes the book feel alive, real, and gives it the foundation a fanciful book like this needs. The only characters that I feel might be the exceptions to this are the Lunars. Not all, after all(show spoiler)
I'm not sure if its because of the few times we see them, how 'bad' they are seen to be or the fact that we are given little knowledge about them (see Rant).
Plot and Writing:
One of the story's good points is how compelling the novel is. This was literally a page turner as I had not seen in quite a bit. I had to see what happened next. The flow of the story as well as the structure is solid and makes the reading enjoyable. Meyer weaves tropes and ideas well-known to us into something 'new' and very interesting. All in all, a great first novel with strong structure and coherent flow.
I have to say, a cyberpunk Cinderella is not something I pictured in my wildest dreams. Yet, somehow, it works...and works well. This is a world that is at once years beyond us in robotics and cybernetics yet we see most of the people live in little more then slums and it seems a dirty, used place to a degree we are not use to seeing our world. A world where every straight surface is a video feed and no one looks beyond their mobile device...wait, how strange is this?
I've seen some reviews say the New Beijing setting is said but not terribly portrayed. No, it doesn't infuse every page of the novel, but it is there and shows up in moments when it should versus when it could be shoved or sutured in. It was in the little things and made it feel as if it were normal rather then exotic.
First I want to state, in case you couldn't tell, I really like this book. I want to buy this book, like now. I'm waiting to read the sequel as soon as I finish this review (didn't want to get them mixed up). However, this does not mean the book is perfect. My status/reading progress updates connected with this book were used to highlight some of my issues.
Warning: there will be a bit of hidden spoilers sprinkled in.
Issue # 1: Plot Twists
Oh my...I have not words for the 'twists' in this book. A reviewer on Goodreads put it best when she said, "the plot twist ran up to me and sucker punched me in the face at only 10% in." (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/226410893) Oh yeah, that sums it up perfectly. It was as if Chekhov's gun had done a song and dance routine about how you should notice it/not notice it. Believe me, I saw it coming.(show spoiler)
Basically, all the big surprises were turned into me shouting, "I KNEW IT!" The truly amazing thing and the reason I praise Meyer so much is that I loved the story and the writing was great despite the fact that the aspects of her book that were in there for pay off didn't quite work. They were good, just not surprising at all.
Issue # 2: Sailor Moon
I'll admit it; I'm not a huge fan of Sailor Moon. Don't hate it; I watched all the shows and movies and read the manga but there are other anime/manga I like much better. I can see why people who love the show love this and it didn't surprise me to discover the author previously wrote fan fiction in the fandom (a review by Bry on GR). So while not a huge issue, I found the obvious connection with Sailor Moon (Princess Selene,(show spoiler)
the Lunar Queen's obvious similarities to Queen Beryl, and some of Kai's actions to be...distracting. The story is good, interesting, and I want to see where it goes but it would have been far less predictable if it didn't pull from Sailor Moon quite so much.
Issue # 3: Cyborg/Lunars
This is one of the aspects of other critical reviews I do agree with to an extent. These two aspects of the story are essential yet we are told very little concerning them. Likewise, peoples' reactions to these two groups are not really discussed, they simply are. This, for me, was particularly difficult with the Lunars. Why can they do these extraordinary things? Experimentation? The Lunar environment? Nothing...ok. The reason they don't revolt is discussed but surely there have been attempts. How did they turn out? Nothing.
The cyborg thing, for me, was the lesser of the issues. I know others were confused why people hated them for apparently no good reason. Hatred is rarely rational and many can't put into words why they feel the way they do other then, perhaps others do as well. I assumed it had something to do with how people seemed to ignore the androids other then that they were doing their jobs. They are clearly seen as little more then tools. So perhaps melding the electronic parts with humans is seen as making you less then. That can be inferred from certain quotes. But this is only my guess and my supposition. I hope the author explains more in the next book.
Issue # 4: Ending
If, like me, you've been on the fence about reading this, give it a shot. This is one of the best YA books I've read in awhile; it is a very solid read even though its plot twists are rather predictable. This is a compelling look at a world that is a cyberpunk world retelling of Cinderella with a touch of Sailor Moon. So this gets four well deserved stars.
And hey, at least she didn't have the Sailor Scouts!
Reading Progress (from GR)
|12/02/2013||page 20||5.0%||"Wow. I'm pretty sure I already know exactly where this is going to go."|
|12/02/2013||page 100||25.0%||"So they've mentioned the THING three times now. Really not convincing me I'm wrong here."|
|12/02/2013||page 175||45.0%||"So Dr. Erland told Cinder something important. Is it wrong that I'm not even surprised I wasn't surprised?"|
|12/02/2013||page 258||66.0%||"Ok, so I didn't see the queen's gift, mostly because I didn't think she'd go so far out of her way. But totally called more of Cinder's back story as well as Dr. Erland's 'big' reveal."|
|12/02/2013||page 387||100.0%||"The ending was good: it was exciting, tense, and yes, rather predictable. Review to follow."|