Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
I wanted to love Cinder. I truly did. The prose is competent if not outstanding, and I was delighted that it was YA written in third person. And it was a retelling of Cinderella, my favorite fairy tale, and one people surprisingly don't use a lot. It tends to get a harsh reputation as the worst of 'wanting a husband' and 'insta-love' stories, but what I've always seen is a tale of determination, willfulness, desire to change ones lot in life and be happy.
So, let's start there: Does it work as an adaptation? Yes and no. Though there are some clever twists on the old legend, like losing her entire robotic foot on the steps of the palace instead of just her shoe, but otherwise, despite the novel setting and the newness of adapting it into quasi-sci-fi, it didn't necessarily feel like the fairy tale. Someone told me that Meyer set it in New Beijing as a tribute to the tale's origin, but, really, it could just as easily be a tribute to Perrault or Disney; it feels that generic.
One could make an argument that it includes the lesser known variations, like Donkeyskin, Sapsorrow or The Shepherdess, where the prince meets the heroine in disguise (usually as she's hiding from her father) and the two fall in love despite their class separation, as he's the only one who can see through to the real her. But Cinder and Kai's interactions are awkward: she never quite seems to get over the fact that he's a prince (unlike in the tales I mentioned, where the heroine uses the disguise to be a bit pert and really get to know the prince) to get to know him, and he shows how little faith he has in her the moment when the chips are down. Cinder's desire to simply be free is admirable, even if it at times feels like it's forced in there to show how pro-female the book is, as opposed to the fairy tale, when in fact the desire of the heroine, her motivations, remain the same, and it takes away from her relationship with Kai. There's actually quite a bit that Cinder values over Kai: her step sister Peony, her android friend--and this is extremely admirable, but if you want to do the romance at the same time, there needs to be a balance, and it felt that the story tipped away from Kai to the point when it didn't really feel romantic at all.
The car as the pumpkin coach ultimately goes no where, and left me wondering how a diesel vehicle survived possibly thousands of years into the future (and through two world wars) without rusting away to nothing, let alone as a fixable entity. Cinder's family isn't really a step family, and the use of the term seems odd and out of place, when she's actually an adopted daughter (of Adri's husband); it felt as if it was forced in there just to hearken back to the story.
World Building: Oh, dear. And here's where my main problem with the book comes in. Despite the setting, this is fantasy more than it is science; concepts are introduced and never explained: WHY are cyborgs hated? Just because they're different? Wow, their world is not kind to the disabled, and technology that we have now and is every advancing is hated and feared in a world that's only a century away from a world war, when a great number of the populace most likely became disable? Ooh, the ableism. And I know people would argue that it's anti-ableism, in Cinder's favor, but just that the author presented us with this world and didn't bother to deal with the ramifications of disability politics is a problem. (As a matter of fact, us "Earthens" had something uneasily close to a disabled draft for medical betterment called Action T4 in Nazi Germany, which lent Dr. Erland an uneasily sinister Germanic air to me that I could never really get over.)
What caused World War IV? Who fought, how was the world devastated? For that matter, when was World War III, and what damage did that do to the world? When was the moon colonized? How is it colonized? What circumstances led to the Lunars evolving with the powers they have? How long did it take? What, aside from having a dictator who rules through brainwashing, are the politics of the Lunar society? How did they come to have a monarchy? How exactly does this "manipulation of bioelectricity" work? Really, I would have accepted any sort of answer, other than just, "it's a manipulation of bioelectricity." It's superhero science gone wrong, because illusion should effect the vision centers of the brain or the eyes, right? Comics who use bioelectrical manipulation usually do so as energy (like an organic electrical whip) or as a shield. Sorry, I'm geeking now. But the point is that Meyer doesn't even attempt to explain how it would work, and I would have accepted a total bull-puckey explanation over almost nothing at all.
How is everyone speaking the same language? Or are they? Is there a new international language? What is religion like? And I won't believe you if you say that everyone is atheistic.
There are so many questions I have about this world that I feel will never get answered, even in the sequels, because it feels as if the author takes it for granted that they are sci-fi cliches (World Wars! Cyborgs as hated and feared! International superpowers as the dominant superpower on Earth!) that we'll just accept. That's bad world building. And it's not even starting from scratch, like high fantasy!
Ah, and speaking of international superpowers: The setting. I mentioned before that Meyer set the novel in China as a tribute to the original tale's origin. Fine. Actually, great! But, as I discussed with a book group, POC for POC's sake is not gonna cut it! Race, and ethnicity, is not just skin color: it's tradition, habit, culture, language. Only one or two flourishes are ever tell-tale of the story's setting: a kimono here, a lantern there. It felt more like Meyer was taking from what Joss Whedon had built with Firefly (which was problematic in of itself), and not bothering to truly examine the actual cultural and socioeconomic reasoning he used (which, again, was problematic). I am extremely white (if also very Greek), so I don't personally know the Chinese culture, but I know it wasn't being presented to me here! What a shame, as it would help with presenting a real and appealing world.
Cinder is a decent heroine. I'm currently reading Scarlet (which I'm adoring!), and I prefer the growth of the characterization there. Kai seems completely hopeless to me; I'm a hopeless romantic, it must be said, but when the guy I'm crushing on imprisons me and is about to turn me over to someone who is unquestioningly going to execute me? That's a huge FAIL on the true love test right there, no matter how manipulated he felt. Iko was probably my favorite character.
Oh, and the cliffhanger. Please, just give me whole books from now on. I want to feel as if I've completed something, not as if I was being manipulated into reading a sequel. It felt lazy. It felt as if the book cut off just as it was getting good.
But I still picked up the sequel. And intend to keep reading to the series' end, so there's something to it. I just wasn't as impressed with what there is in the first book as others seem to be. And that hurt my heart a little.