Jean, 39, lover of sci-fi, horror and fantasy, reader of comic books, conqueror of genre fiction.
It was circumstance that led to me picking up this book in the first place: after my lukewarm reception of the first book in the Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder, I was divided on whether or not to go ahead with the second, despite Little Red Riding Hood being a particular favorite of mine. But there happened to be a copy checked in at the library, so I grabbed it, and I ended up very glad that I did.
Problems remain. Scarlet's part of the story takes place in le Midi, the south of France, but I never really felt that rich, emotional, French atmosphere it ought to have. The early Cinder chapters had my attention waning, as it seemed that Meyer felt the need to show us every step along the way. I would have been fine just being told in a paragraph or two about the jail break--at the very least, I could have done without descriptions of plodding through the sewer.
That said, despite the common complaints I've seen about Scarlet at Wolf's story dragging, and nothing really happening, I felt those parts were actually very nicely paced, taut, and quiet, with good character building. I admit, I just love trains. I love stories that take place, even just in part, on trains; it lends those parts of the book a very European feel (at last!), with sprinklings of romance and suspense.
The new characters: I don't have anything specific I look for in female characters; I only ask that they be, in some way, likable, whether they're strong or weak, romantic, humorless, funny, flawed or seemingly perfect, etc. I was unsure of Scarlet to begin with, thinking she was going for the more aggressively badass kind of girl, who usually end up with brittle and unlikable characterization. But the moment she met Wolf, and then proceeded to defend Cinder to a bar full of drunks, I sort of fell in love with her. She speaks without really thinking it through first, but there's both an inherent sweetness and a goodness to her. She's passionate (more so when the author isn't necessarily trying to show how passionate she is; it can become a bit much to say, "she's yelling! Look how feisty she is!" but it never overwhelms), she's driven (to find her grandmother, which, as someone who has lost my immediate family, I completely identified with) and she's practical (grabbing the shotgun to wield against the thaurmaturge.) Is her plan perfect? Far, far from it. But I appreciate the desperation that she shows in wanting to save her grand-mere.
Wolf is a ball of barely contained energy, all stillness on the outside, with only a hand, or a knee tapping to show the inner storm of intensity and stamina. Seemingly innocent (and in many ways, actually innocent and inexperienced), very strong, and, from the beginning, confused and conflicted about the strong feeling for Scarlet he develops instantly. He's my favorite of the male characters, hands down; there's a humor to him, brought out mainly by Scarlet. Their romance was a home run for me.
There's Thorne as well, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of him just yet; I got a better idea when I started reading Cress (hint: I adore him.) He has some funny lines, and lots of roguish swagger, but he seemed, often, to be the butt of jokes. I saw potential, which is realized, thank goodness, in the next book.
The fairy tale: While Cinder was blatant in using, and sometimes forcing, the elements of the original fairy tale into the storyline of the novel, I feel as if Scarlet more naturally incorporates elements of the story, but more importantly, the themes of it. One of the most deconstructed fairy tales of all time, there are undeniable sexual overtones to it, and this book drew that in, I felt; Cinder had no sexual subtext, which was right for an adaptation of Cinderella, where suddenly the reader is feeling sexual tension from the two leads, a very sexually potent relationship between Scarlet and Wolf. The subject of sexual violence is even raised by Wolf's no-good brother Ran when he's attacking Scarlet, and is touched upon by Wolf himself, when he forces her up against a wall and kisses her (in order to pass her an ID chip; more on that in a minute.)
I liked how it tied into Cinder and the overall arcing storyline; the connection with Scarlet's grandmother is smart and understated. And it was fun to spot the fairy tale allusions; they did seem more subtle to me this time around.
Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal: Okay, so I saw Wolf's betrayal coming. Not that it was so obvious, it was like a slap in the face, or frustrating to follow Scarlet trusting him. As a matter of fact, it added to an understanding of his character as he keeps trying to pull away from Scarlet, as he begins to feel easy that she really knows nothing, and then his dread when she begins to remember. It's him you want to yell at, to choose her side (and it's explained, later, that he did, in hoping that he could convince them she didn't know anything about Princess Selene and let her go, what I take to be his last break from the pack when Jael refuses to.)
Overall: It loses half a star only because the early chapters of Cinder, for me dragged and were almost difficult to get through. I enjoyed the character of Cinder herself much better than I had in the first book and loved her interactions with Thorne. The story is tight, and though characters fail to make the very obvious leap between Cinder and Selene, that never really bothered me. I loved it. A very fun read, and a redemption for the series.