Cinder by Marissa Meyer updates the fairytale of Cinderella with a scifi twist. Cinder is a cyborg mechanic, working to pay the bills for her resentful stepmother and her two stepsisters. While her stepmother and stepsisters are getting ready to attend the Eastern Commonwealth’s annual festival, Cinder is more concerned with manufacturing her escape from bondage and avoiding the cyborg draft. The last thing she wants is to “volunteer” as a cyborg guinea pig for plague research. Yet when the plague comes to her city, protecting the people she cares about while staying alive are her top priorities. Meanwhile, the Lunar Queen threatens Earth with war. Amid all the turmoil and upheaval, the last thing on her mind is attending the festival and dancing with the prince. So why can’t she get him out of her mind?
Far from the disneyfied version of Cinderella most Westerners grow up with, Cinder worries about whether the plague will devastate her home and whether she’ll be drafted to contract the plague – an almost certainly lethal “opportunity” to help find a cure. She dreams of escape, the same as her other fairytale counterparts, except her escape would be from literal – not figurative – slavery to her stepmother.
Cyborgs deal with prejudice and social ostracism because they aren’t considered fully human; for that matter, the inhabitants of the moon are no longer human. After so many generations, the one-time human colonists evolved and developed strange powers over the minds of others. The similarity between both groups is striking. Both are no longer considered human and are despised by Earthers when those very differences are actually strengths. Earthbound humans loath Lunars because they fear them, denigrate cyborgs because their artificial nature disgusts them.
Cinder is the best mechanic in the city, for reasons she tries to keep hidden – her cyborg nature. So when the prince brings her a robot to repair, she passes as a regular human while using her internal sensors and readouts to access information and even tell when people are lying. She hides her strengths for fear of rejection.
However, the Lunar Queen has no such qualms. She knows her strengths and doesn’t hesitate to let Earthers know her opinions. Even though the original Cinderella doesn’t have a wicked witch or evil queen, the Lunar Queen fills both roles quite nicely. So many fairy tales share those elements anyway that it doesn’t seem out of place, but the fact that Earth is continually threatened by the Queen of the Moon is too cool for words.
In fact, almost every female character is strong and independent, good and bad alike, even Cinder. Given her victim status, she can’t seem to win, but she sticks up for herself whenever possible and never gives up on her dream of living free. Despite her hardships, she stays true to herself – kind and, despite society’s opinion of cyborgs, achingly human.
From early on it was apparent that a particular plot twist was coming, though a certain amount of predictability should be expected when retelling a well-known tale. Given the strength of the characters and the extraordinary world, there are plenty of new things to discover along the way. Cinder is a delight that fans of fairytales and science fiction won’t want to miss.