Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
I’ll be real. When I first opened this book, I was like, “oh no, more steampunk!” As you know, I am one of those unenlightened souls who just doesn’t get steampunk, even if I think their outfits can look cool. Clockwork is awesome, what can I say? This isn’t really like that, though. It’s sci-fi, my beloved sci-fi that I haven’t touched since I reviewed Genesis back in July. Cinder is a Cyborg, not a clockwork woman, and she is the best mechanic in New Beijing. She has a little android friend named Iko, who helps Cinder out and is super cute. We meet Prince Kai in the very beginning as well, and if this re-telling goes in even a vaguely similar direction to the originals, we’ll see a lot more of him later. There is a plague, well,plaguing people all over this new world, and an antidote has not yet been found. In order to speed the process, cyborgs are being drafted for testing of the vaccine under the guise of honor and helping the people who treat them like crap. The plague takes Cinder’s stepsister, Peony, the only friendly human in Cinder’s house.
And then Cinder’s stepmother sells her for plague testing. She fights, but she does not win. This part is really sad. Cinder does not want to volunteer, and fights back. She, and everyone else in the house, knows that those who volunteer for plague testing do not come back. She is taken away by force. The next time we see her, she is in a medical lab being injected with the virus. The doctor examining her is creepy and weird, but he notices some anomalies in Cinder’s cyborg body. Cinder is immune to the plague, and perhaps her blood can be used to make an antidote. It’s all very Claire from Heroes, but I liked it. It worked. Cinder is allowed an illusion of freedom as long as she returns without a fuss to allow more tests.
So this book seems serious, but it can be funny as well. When Prince Kai is interacting with his dying father, he suggests ordering the Emperor an escort droid, and Cinder makes jokes about her operation to Dr. Creepy and Weird. There are also interesting, and supposedly evil, people from the Lunar society who work magic. The Lunar Queen supposedly killed not only her husband, but her sister and her sister’s daughter so that no one could take the throne from her. Rumors swirl that the princess, Selene, is still alive somewhere. The Earthens do not like the Lunars, despite knowing little to nothing about them, because they do seem to be right about evil Queen Levana. I liked the Lunars right off, but this is the girl who rooted for Gollum to kill Frodo, so maybe I’m not the best judge of character.
My favorite thing about fairytale re-tellings is how versatile they can be. I can pick out two other Cinderella re-tellings (Ash by Malinda Lo and The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines) that I just love but are worlds apart from this book and from each other. I watched Disney’s Cinderella so many times I ruined the tape. I think it might be my favorite of the fairytales. Adding a sci-fi element is something I’ve seen done with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but this is new. Cinderella is a cyborg! The Prince has a real name that isn’t Charming! There’s a big mystery (that I figured out at about 38% but still)! The only thing that bothered me is what bothers me in all YA novels: the heroine never knows that the hero likes her. She always makes excuses for why he might be trying to hang out with her. Cinder is no different, but her reasons are better than most.
Things start happening quickly, and Cinder finds herself playing a role in not only the Letumosis vaccination trials, but also in the political arena. She and Kai grow a little closer, though she hides her cyborg-ness from him. The Lunar queen is moving in for the kill, and we find out she can glamour a crowd into calmness and acceptance, even love. Kai is afraid, and Cinder is told to stay away from the queen. We find out more about Cinder’s past and some of it is sad, yes, but most of it is shocking. The jokes dropped by Cinder and Iko throughout the book help lighten the atmosphere and even made me laugh out loud a few times. The ending is bittersweet, however, so prepare yourself for that.
I liked this one a lot, despite little misgivings that I am pretty sure are unique to me. Of course, I’m now looking forward to the next one, which I shouldn’t even be thinking about yet! There’s also a little excerpt of a prequel to Cinder up on Tor’s site. Check this one out after the holidays. If you like fairytale re-tellings and/or sci-fi, this one will definitely fit the bill. You won’t regret it!