Ah, the allure of the fairy tale. Cinderella has been told millions of times in thousands of ways, but it’s a story we keep coming back to because it speaks to us. It’s about someone in a shitty situation who manages to stay a good person, rather than turning cynical or bitter, who eventually finds love because she’s a good person. Also magic.
In Marissa Meyer’s novel Cinder there are plenty of elements from the familiar tale. A step-daughter (though she’s a cyborg and works as a mechanic in the vendor’s row), a handsome Prince (Kaito), and an evil Step Mother who is Cinder’s legal guardian and loathes her. There’s a ball, yes. But there is no fairy godmother. Cinder doesn’t need one, either, although there is a helpful doctor.
In the world of New Beijing where our story is set, the Emperor Rikan is sick and the prince brings his android to Cinder’s stall because he’s heard she’s the best. He didn’t expect to find a teenage girl, and she manages to hide the fact that she’s a cyborg, because that’s looked down upon as being “not fully human.” Of course they’re both smitten, though Cinder is reluctant to admit it. Meanwhile, a disease known as letumosis is running rampant and killing people. And the Lunar Queen, an evil creature, is poised to start a war with Earth and she uses her magical glamor to keep her own kingdom in line.
So: we have cyborgs, a plague, and an evil Moon Queen. This is not your mother’s Cinderella, is what I’m saying.
It’s a page-turning adventure with all of the stress of the classic fairy tale: you want to see Cinder succeed and you want things to go well, but she’s got a lot of obstacles to overcome and it’s hard to know how she’ll do it. Though one of the reveals is glaringly obvious almost from the start of the book, it’s handled well, giving Cinder half of the information about halfway in, and more or less winking at the reader as if to say, “You know it. But she does not yet. So hold your horses.” Characters are well developed and it’s impossible not to care about the good ones and loathe the evil ones.
Meyer thanks her community of fellow Sailor Moon fans in the back of the book. I wouldn’t have made the connection (Selene, Moon Kingdom, etc) but it was an awesome revelation to know she was slightly inspired by the series (of which I am a huge fan). That’s not to say she ripped it off, just that if you look hard, you could probably find a few nods and homages to it.
Cinder is also available as an audiobook. Curious about the story? Want to hear the first part? Here’s a free preview of Cinder audiobook, provided by Macmillan Audio:
Cinder Audiobook Preview (MP3)
Recommended: Even if you’ve disliked “modern fairy tales” or “twists on fairy tales” you’ve picked up in the past, this is something altogether different. It uses the original story as a jumping off point and a point of inspiration, but it’s not like Cinderella with Cyborgs, I promise.