It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that was this fun.
In my late teens and early 20s, the big fad in YA books was dystopian fiction. Some of it was done really well and some of it was done poorly, but the main reason I remember that era fondly was the imagination of it all. The books weren’t just set in a dystopian future, they also incorporated really interesting futuristic sci-fi elements.
However, while I enjoyed these books (at least the well-done ones, like The Hunger Games and The Giver) my true love was still fantasy. Particularly light-hearted, middle grade fantasy. In fact, I adored re-told fairy tales, and collected six retellings of Cinderella alone.
A year and a half ago, I was perusing the YA books at my local St. Vincent de Paul when I saw a copy of Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. Why have I never read this book? I thought to myself. It was obviously a retelling of Cinderella set in a futuristic world, and it seemed like something I ought to read, if for no other purpose than to remain the foremost expert on Cinderella retellings.
(Actually I just googled “Cinderella retellings” and realized there are still many that I haven’t read, so scratch that, haha.)
Anyway, I bought it, read it, and loved it. It was so fun and clever that I gave it to Steven for his birthday, thinking it was exactly the sort of book he likes, and then bought the second book in the series, Scarlet, for myself.
After Scarlet I dearly wanted to buy myself the third book, Cress, but I couldn’t quite justify the price. For some reason it was a lot more expensive on Thriftbooks than Scarlet was. So I didn’t end up finishing the series until this spring, when Amy borrowed Cinder and Scarlet from Steven and I, and then requested Cress and Winter at the library.
Why didn’t I think to do that? Well anyway, I read them when she was done.
Let’s start by talking about the unique plot structure, and then move on to the world building.
Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella, and while the plot is mostly from Cinder’s point of view, sometimes it switches to the point of view of Emperor Kai (aka Prince Charming). But at the end of the book, the story is nowhere near finished. Time to read the second book!
But wait. The second book, Scarlet, is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. However, some chapters are continuing Cinder’s story. And some chapters are still from Kai’s point of view.
Cress is a retelling of Rapunzel, and Winter is a retelling of Snow White, so by the time the series is finished the story is being told from the perspective of four different fairy tale characters and their four love interests, as well as Cinder’s android friend Iko. That’s nine perspectives!
I mean, usually a lot of them are with each other, so there are maybe 2-4 storylines going on at once instead of nine. But it’s still quite unique. In fact, the only thing I could think to compare it to is The Lord of the Rings. It’s similar in the way it is told in multiple books but is actually one long continuing story arc, and also in the way it collects characters as it goes along and then must tell their stories as well.
This ends up being really fun, because it gives characters a chance to interact with characters who aren’t from their own fairy tale. What sort of relationship would Cinderella have with Rapunzel’s prince? If they had to work together, would they get along? We certainly find out!
In fact, the odd thing is that while the overarching protagonist is the Cinderella character, the overarching villain is the queen from Snow White.
The world building is so interesting to me. It’s obvious that the books were intended to sort-of fit in with the dystopian craze of the time. But it’s not quite a true dystopia—actually, I’d say it’s a really interesting cross between the dystopian and science fiction genres.
It’s set in a future where space travel is common, mortally injured humans can remain living by becoming half-robot cyborgs, and androids are everywhere doing much of the world’s mundane labor. But instead of exploring the galaxy, humans in Meyer’s world have colonized the moon, and that’s all. It’s just the moon and earth. And if you don’t want to go to the moon, you can use your spacecraft to get to another part of earth quickly.
This was a really interesting take, in my opinion, because it’s so much more realistic about how far apart planets actually are from each other.
The earth, in Meyer’s world, isn’t really dystopian. It’s certainly different than our current world, more futuristic, and with futuristic problems such as cyborg discrimination. But it also has normal problems too, like contagious incurable diseases.
“Luna,” the kingdom that resides on the moon, is a pretty dystopian place, however. Winter takes place mostly on Luna, and it definitely has Hunger Games capitol city vibes.
One of the characters who we meet near the beginning of Scarlet is a thief named Carswell Thorne who owns (that is, stole) a spaceship. The spaceship then serves as a sort of home-base for the rest of the characters during the course of the story.
What is it about a cast of diverse interesting characters aboard a spaceship that’s so enchanting? It ended up being one of my favorite things about the series. They all had these different talents that helped the crew as a whole, and it gave me the same feeling I get from the show Firefly.
But here I ended up disappointed, because there was never a single moment when more than six of the nine main characters (including Iko the android) were in the ship at the same time. They all knew each other, but they were never all at the same place at the same time until the very very end. And it wasn’t like they could all just jet into the sky at the end because some of them were, you know, monarchs with countries to run.
It’s weird, because usually when they turn books into movies or TV shows I want them to stick exactly to the book, and I’m afraid they’ll ruin it. But with this one, I think changing it could make a really fun wonderful TV show. If you made the overarching plot less urgent, and gave all the monarchs some excuse to be on a spaceship instead of running their countries (a coup or something?) it could be a sort-of Firefly for teens with some fairy tale magic sprinkled in and I would adore it.
One can dream. (But honestly, with the multiple characters and their multiple storylines it already reads somewhat like a TV show.)
Overall, I don’t think everyone will be as enchanted by this series as I was. However, I think anyone who even semi-enjoyed the wave of dystopian YA that hit the market in the early 2010s, anyone who likes re-told fairy tales, and anyone who enjoys fun lighthearted sci-fi will at least enjoy the books, even if they don’t become your Favorite Things Ever. I feel like the series has a fairly wide mass appeal, unless you’re an I Only Like Realistic Books type.
Before I get too gushy, I should say that Scarlet’s romance in Scarlet was somewhat reminiscent of the weird obsessive paranormal romances of the same era (Twilight etc.). That was something I did not enjoy, which is probably why I was able to take such a long pause after reading Scarlet even though it’s one of the most intentionally-designed-to-be-impossible-to-put-down series I’ve ever read. Both characters grew on me in subsequent books, however.
Also. Why did I say “before I get too gushy” at the literal end of the review? I don’t know.
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