I usually wait until an entire series (or at least most of it) is published before I start reading—that avoids the situation of anxiously waiting for the next book to come out, a situation I faced with Scarlet, the hotly anticipated sequel to Cinder. Of course, as soon as the book was in my house, it moved to the top of my huge “to read” pile. The fact that it adds “Little Red Riding Hood” to the fairy tale mix was a bonus. (I talked with Jocelyn Koehler about retellings of “Little Red Riding Hood.”)
Scarlet skews toward the older end of Cinder’s tween audience. It takes place right after the previous book ends, but it starts in France where Scarlet has just delivered vegetables to a local pub. Everyone is watching the news about the cyborg girl who got arrested at the prince’s ball in the Eastern Commonwealth, and the patrons are saying awful things about Cinder. Scarlet finds herself defending the girl and getting into a bar brawl. A cage fighter comes to her defense. His name, shockingly, is Wolf. We learn that Scarlet’s grandmother has been kidnapped and Scarlet has to figure out whether or not she can trust Wolf as she tries to rescue her grandmother.
Meanwhile, Cinder is escaping from jail and ends up needing to bring along Thorne, a (he thinks) very dashing American pilot who stole a spaceship. Iko returns when her personality chip is installed in the spaceship.
Kai is left picking up the pieces in New Beijing, and the Lunar Queen is horrified that Cinder has escaped. We don’t see a lot of Kai in this book, but enough to continue to feel sympathetic for the young and reluctant emperor.
Like Cinder, fairy tales are more inspiration than outline. But I appreciate that Scarlet’s story starts in France where the earliest recorded versions of “Little Red Riding Hood” are from, while Cinder’s story began in China, where the earliest versions of “Cinderella” originate. If you’re a fan of fairy tales, Marissa Meyer leaves a lovely trail of breadcrumbs you can follow.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Wolf is a cage fighter, and he’s really tough. He gets into a lot of fights—it’s kind of what he does. Some of those fights are pretty graphic. As the battle for Earth intensifies, there are some nasty battles, some to the death. There are multiple scenes of torture. We learn a bit about what toddler Cinder looked like after Levana tried to kill her—it’s not pretty. There are a lot of guns—people shoot and get shot a lot. There are sexual predators as well. The world is really not safe, and it’s getting more dangerous by the minute. Toward the end, the wolves come out and it’s really pretty awful. There are a lot of people dead, although few of them are characters we know.
This is a recurring theme. What are your responsibilities? What do you give up for those you love? Scarlet is willing to do anything, risk anything, to save her grandmother. In the end, her grandmother makes sure she dies, knowing that as long as she lives, Scarlet won’t leave the lair of the wolves. Kai will sacrifice anything for his people. Cinder needs to figure out what sacrifices she can make that will actually make a difference.
Wolf and Scarlet kiss, then there’s a cut scene and they’re curled up together sleeping. There’s definitely sexual tension between them, but it’s not explicitly stated that they do anything besides kiss. In the end, they have a slightly dysfunctional but relatively solid relationship.
There’s a lot of drinking. Sometimes a lot of drinking a lot. Scarlet’s dad is a drunk. The people in the pub are definitely affected by the alcohol, and it makes them violent and rude.
Sexism and Racism
There are sexual predators about. Men aren’t even subtle about sizing up the female characters. Truly horrible misogynistic and racist things are said about Cinder by the people in the pub.
On the other hand, Scarlet’s grandmother is a military hero and a spy. Cinder can fix anything. Scarlet is tough and can stand up for herself—she has a temper, but she’s more likely to punch you in the face than throw a fit. The female characters are complex and talented.
Family relationships run the gamut. Scarlet and her grandmother would do anything for each other, although Scarlet is horrified to learn that her grandmother kept secrets from her. Scarlet’s father is a total useless disaster. Wolf fights against his brother—there’s no love lost between them. Cinder, of course, is on the run from her aunt who keeps trying to kill her. But friends can come through, especially when family fails you.
If you liked Cinder, Scarlet is totally worth reading. It assumes that you’ve read Cinder (and if you haven’t read it yet, you should go do that)—starting with this book in the series would be utterly confusing. As a middle book, it’s surprisingly strong (it looks like at least 4 books are planned for The Lunar Chronicles). I highly recommend it to anyone who’s read and enjoyed Cinder. If Cinder was on the edge of what your kid could handle in tension and violence, you may want to delay this one.