Cinder is a futuristic fairytale, and although there are obvious connections to “Cinderella,” it’s really its own tale with nods to many other familiar stories, particularly “Snow White.”
Cinder is a cyborg—after a horrific accident, parts of her body have been replaced with technology. She has no memory of her life before the accident. Her society views her a second class citizen and the family that “adopted” her sees her as little more than a slave. Her only friends are Peony—her younger stepsister—and an android named Iko with a “defective” personality chip that gives her a bit of attitude.
The story takes place in New Beijing in the Eastern Commonwealth, about 125 years after World War IV devastated the Earth. The six countries of Earth are united with a planet-wide alliance. There are hover cars and implanted ID chips. Everyone is linked to the Net (in Cinder’s case, her brain is wired in directly) and celebrity stalking is a favorite activity. Although medical technology has hugely advanced, there’s a deadly plague with no cure or vaccine. The beautiful and treacherous Queen of the Lunar colony is seeking a marriage alliance with Prince Kaito, the ruler of the Eastern Commonwealth. His eye, of course, is on Cinder.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Cyborgs are considered less than human. Having been saved by medical technology, it’s assumed that they should happily sacrifice themselves in the name of advancing medicine—there’s a daily lottery in which a cyborg is called up to be part of an experimental procedure to find a vaccine for the plague. This procedure is always fatal.
Cinder is frequently reminded that she’s property, and burdensome property at that. Her stepmother “volunteers” her for the medical procedure, hoping it will kill her. Plus the stepmother gets compensated for parting with her property.
Cinder tries to hide the fact that she’s a cyborg—it’s embarrassing to her and eats away at her self-esteem. Later she learns that she’s also Lunar which makes her even less welcome among humans, and she’s certain the human prince she loves will only look at her with disgust if he finds out either of her secrets.
The humans do have some legitimate reasons to be wary of the mind-controlling, reality-warping Lunar.
Violence, Gore, & Death
The rampant plague isn’t pleasant, and it’s described in some detail. Those who get it are quarantined and left to die alone. We see several characters die from it. When Peony gets the plague, it’s brutal. The scene where they learn about it is wrenching, as is the aftermath. Iko, Cinder’s android friend, is dismantled by the stepmother, purposefully to hurt Cinder who was with Peony when she got the virus. I really thought Peony would be spared in the end, but she dies. Cinder cuts the ID chip from Peony’s wrist, another graphic scene, and fights androids to escape from the quarantine—because her best friend was an android, this means more than just destroying machines. Cinder definitely has a violent streak—she’s used to fighting for everything.
The medical experiment scene is pretty intense. Cinder is strapped to a table and infected with the virus. She survives, but only because it turns out she’s immune to it—everyone involved fully expected her to die and they were all ok with that.
The Lunar Queen doesn’t hesitate to make people harm themselves. She nearly gets a servant to cut her own eye out until the prince intervenes. To her, this shows his inherent weakness. At another point she gets Cinder to hold a gun to her own head, but Cinder overcomes the Queen’s influence because her brain has been programmed to resist Lunar mind control. The Queen is also planning to take over the earth—she’s been building a secret army, and she won’t hesitate to destroy and/or enslave humanity. She’s pretty irredeemably evil.
Like Snow White’s stepmother, the Lunar Queen focuses on how beautiful people think she is. She has a thing for mirrors, too—but in her case, she despises them because her beauty is nothing but a glamour. When it turns out that Cinder can see through the glamour and resist the mental control, the Queen perceives her as dangerous and wants her dead.
The stepmother and stepsisters take extravagant steps to be seen as beautiful—they spend tremendous amounts of money they don’t really have on dresses and so on. Only Peony seems at all down to earth.
There’s some mild innuendo. Several times android escorts are mentioned in passing, and mature enough readers will know what all that entails.
A doctor realizes that Cinder’s fertility is intact—rare in a cyborg, and a medical miracle in her case, considering the repairs that had to be made to her. We can only assume that this will matter later in the trilogy.
What sacrifices are you willing to make for something you believe in? Cinder is willing to make almost any personal sacrifice for those she loves. A Lunar doctor sacrifices the lives of hundreds of cyborgs in his search for a missing princess. The prince must decide if he’s willing to sacrifice his life and possibly the freedom of his people to gain a vaccine that would save their lives.
Stereotypes run rampant in fairytales and Cinder has its fair share, especially among the villains and mentors. However, Cinder herself is no shrinking violet waiting to be rescued. She’s tough, standing up for herself and taking initiative when she can (although there’s a lot of reactive action rather than proactive action). She’s one of the best mechanics around, which is how she first meets the prince. She finds and restores an ancient gas-powered car, even though she’s never seen one before. The prince is no spoiled royal or hero in the wings, waiting to save the day at the last minute. He’s a complex character, doing the best he can in an awful situation.
I’ll admit that the sci-fi angle put me off a bit at first, but I’m so glad I overcame my own prejudice and read this book. It’s a bit dark, and as the first book in a trilogy it has no happy ending yet. I think this book will appeal to mature 10 year olds up through adults who enjoy fantastical stories. And don’t let the red high heel on the cover keep your son from reading it—focus on the robotic foot and convince him to give it a try! I’m really looking forward to the other books in this trilogy.
Cinderby Marissa Meyer
Published in 2012 by Feiwel & Friends
First book in The Lunar Chronicles
Read my personal hard copy