Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went into this book with such high hopes that I suppose it was inevitable that I'd be disappointed. Still, it would've been nice if the book had met at least one of my expectations.

Cinder is a SF retelling of Cinderella, set in a dystopian world infected with an incurable (and 100% deadly) plague, and where world powers are truncated into a few major players. Meanwhile, up on the moon, there's a colony of people with the power to persuade, to make you see what they want you to, and to control people's movements. Our heroine, Linh Cinder, is a cyborg, a human girl implanted with computer and robotic parts. Because this basically gives her super powers, this is somewhat balanced by her low status as property of her "stepmother," Linh Adri, the wife of the now-dead Linh Garan who adopted Cinder before contracting the plague.

If the main conflict of the book was dealing with the plague, the book fails to deliver on that point. If it wasn't, it wastes a lot of pages on the subject. Cinder's beloved stepsister, Peony, contracts it, and Cinder is donated to medical research to help find a cure. By the end of the book, the most resolution we get on this point is that there is a cure, but that the evil Lunar Queen Levana has it, and is holding it hostage to gain political power.

One would hope, then, that the Lunar threat is addressed in some way. We get some answers about how it can be dealt with by the end of the book, in the form of the most frustrating conversation I've ever been privy to ("But I can't do all that!" "I was just getting to that, after my five paragraphs of clumsy exposition about why it's important you do it. But first, let me explain this diagram of the nervous system . . .").

As others have noted in their reviews, though, the ending just drops off. There are no resolutions, only a building of conflicts that ends with the heroine deciding not to give up. I wouldn't have minded the book ending there, if I'd felt the rest of the plotting was tight enough to justify the lack of resolution, but I didn't. I felt like there was a lot of back-and-forth and establishing of how evil Queen Levana was and why it was important to stop her and how good Cinder was. Conversations were interminable, characterized by info dumps and avoiding the point.

The book is set in China, in "New Beijing" (because the old city was razed in WW4, and you can't reuse city names, I guess). There are sprinklings of Asian flavor, but it felt more like what you'd see in Chinatown than China. There are blatant stereotypes (dragon ladies, packed-tight housing, kimonos and geisha makeup), but Cinder could've been strolling the streets of New York City just as easily without losing any cultural details. Perhaps it was supposed to illustrate a homogenization of this future world, but it came off as appropriative, to me. The fact that she's a white hero in an Asian world made me rather uncomfortable, too.

I listened to this book on audio, and the reading was good, though the female narrator doesn't modulate her voice at all for Prince Kai's dialogue. I was fine with the notion he might sound feminine, but it makes some of the scenes where he's talking to world leaders unintentionally funny. If that might bother you, I'd recommend against the audio. Otherwise, the narrator speaks crisply, though sometimes melodramatically. Her background is in voice acting for American dubs, and, well, there's a reason I pick subtitles when I'm watching a film that isn't in English.

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