With Cinder, debut author Marissa Meyer re-imagines the fairy tale Cinderella as a futuristic political thriller. Cinder is an exciting story that will appeal to female fans of dystopian fiction, steampunk, science fiction, and fairy tale reinventions. It plays with a range of ideas (medical ethics, political compromises), but especially the question of what defines us as human. Is it our bodies? Our emotional capacity? Or something else entirely, something that can't be precisely understood?
Cinder Linh is a cyborg living in the futuristic city of New Beijing, under the control of her resentful stepmother. She is an expert mechanic and has a booth in the marketplace where she repairs all manner of broken technology. One day, Prince Kai approaches her booth incognito. He has a broken android, and is willing to go to great lengths to have it repaired, although it is an obsolete model. Why? What Cinder doesn't know is that the Emperor, Kai's father, is lying ill with a deadly disease called letumosis, a disease without a cure which is devastating the earth.
Things quickly unravel for Cinder. Her stepsister Peony, the only person in her small family who actually likes her, catches the disease and is sent to a holding place where she is expected to die quickly. Since Cinder was with Peony when she became ill, Cinder's stepmother vengefully "volunteers" her for medical research--as a cyborg, she is not considered fully human, and has no rights or independence. She expects to die as a research subject, as almost none of the cyborgs enrolled as test patients survive. Surprisingly, she does not. She is mysteriously immune. Meanwhile, the Emperor dies, Prince Kai is about to become Emperor in his father's place, and the sinister Queen Levana, ruler of the Lunars (who live on the moon) arrives on earth to manipulate him into marriage. Cinder finds herself in a perfect storm of political intrigue, deception, and danger.
The big weakness of this book is that one of the plot points (who is Cinder, really?) is pretty easy to guess from about half-way through--the clues are a little too obvious. Still, the story is engrossing despite that. We may know who Cinder is before she does, but we don't know how she's going to get the prince and save the kingdom, or even escape getting squashed by Queen Levana's peculiar ability to "glamour" and control those around her. Cinder is an interesting heroine which some cool attributes of her own (her cyborg programing allows her to see when people are lying to her, for example). Since this is a modernized version of the old tale, she is of course conceived of as much more independent and gutsy than the Cinderellas of the past.
Cinder is the start of a four-book series, which Meyer has stated will each be based on a different fairy tale. Scarlet is coming out in 2013, Cress in 2014 and Winter in 2015. Cinder's story is left unfinished, but it looks like the next book will focus on different characters. Here's a short author interview put out by the publisher: