by Marisa Meyer
[Challenge # 4: A book you started last year and
haven’t yet finished.]
I started Cinder last year. It was one of the first ebooks I ever bought because I could not seem to finish the hardback I had borrowed from the library. Then, after working on it intermittently, I could not finished the ebook. Finally I slotted it into the Authors’ Watercooler challenge, and after some starts and stops, I did finish it. Now know why I had such a problem finishing it. It was that dull.
Now, I know this book has its defenders, and many of them have valid points; I’ve also got three decades on the intended audience, which was 12 to 17. But even considering that, I still don’t get the love. The whole plot was obvious, for one thing. It’s a science fiction take on Cinderella, with a female cyborg as the title character, and that should tell you how it’s going to go. Fairytale/SF mashups have been done before, and well; I was a big fan Joan D. Vinge’s Snow Queen series, for example. But Vinge did what Meyer did not, create a solid SF underpinning for her world. Cinder was more like an old-fashioned Sword and Planet action story from the glory days of the pulps. The SF elements were given only the most cursory of explanations, if at all.
On to the story. Cinder is a put-upon cyborg stepdaughter in a future Asian nation that has somehow gone backward and reinstated its emperor. Cyborgs are considered inhuman, and shunned by everyone. Fine, but the book also depicts being a cyborg as pretty cool and transhuman: the heroine has internal interfaces that let her call up information at will, like a mental internet, and she can adjust her own senses and regulate her emotions. She CAN ALSO TELL WHEN PEOPLE ARE LYING. That’s a pretty useful skill! She’s got a metal hand and leg! So why doesn’t wicked stepmother send her out to play poker, or shake people down for cash? Plus, all those useful implants must be pretty expensive. Why are cyborgs considered worthless slaves? Why doesn’t everyone want to be one? Faulty plot logic there.
The setting also made no sense. It wasn’t until the last third of book that I found out this is the time after the “Fourth World War” and nations and cultures have gotten mashed up and amalgamated, with some, for no reason, reverting to monarchies. I couldn’t figure out why a Singapore-like city was being called an Empire and the son of the emperor was just casually walking around, or why the heroine has a Vietnamese surname, but her family no Vietnamese culture. Actually, the whole setting just served as pretty window-dressing like dangling red lanterns in a noodle shop.
And then there’s those royal families and their damn gowns and balls. Why does every other YA book aimed at girls have some variation of this, even the unpublished ones on Wattpad written by actual teens? Was it from the writers growing up on the Disney princess movies and toy lines that have been shoved down young female throats for the past two decades? Granted, the author subverts it by having Cinder show up at that ball in a dirty borrowed gown and not looking her best, but it’s still there serving its purpose for intrigue and romance.
The other major pulpy element was the mysterious Lunar race. These humans have mind-control powers which are given a lame explanation as being based in bioelectricity. Nice try, but brainwaves just don’t work that way, and if they did, that society would be extremely egalitarian, or extremely chaotic, not ruled by a Royal house with queens and princesses and royal dressmakers. There’s no explanation anywhere for why the “Lunarians” developed these powers, or how they can live on an airless, sterile world with no resources and yet be able to raise an army there large enough to threaten the “Earthens.” (I hate this author’s terminology. What’s wrong with the time-worn but worthy Terran?)
Unlike Red Queen, which was infuriating in the same way with its faulty science, but entertaining and readable in a potboiler way, Cinder depicts its elements too carefully and seriously. It lacked the trashy exuberance it could have had.
My Kindle addition also had some glaring errors — a “coy pond” instead of a koi pond, “under-arms” not underarms, and “preoccupied fingers” instead of occupied fingers. At one point Earth is referred to as part of a greater galaxy of human planets, but it’s never mentioned again. As far as I know, in this series the only inhabited planets are Earth and the Moon.
And no, that sexy red high-heeled shoe does not make an appearance in the book.