For this Friday, I thought I'd do something different and post a review of a book I've read recently. I don't normally review books on my blog, so please don't take this as a cue to email me asking if I'll review YOUR book. But CINDER, by Marissa Meyer (who seems very nice and blogs here), is a book I think writers of YA can learn a lot from, so here it is:
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 started this book after hearing the publisher, Jean Feiwel of Feiwel and Friends, talk about how excited they were about this book, so I had very high expectations. Were they met? Yes and no.
I'd be lying if I said that it was easy for me to put this book down. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't find myself thinking about the characters in this book in the evenings while I was reading, and in the days after I had finished it. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't looking forward to the release of the next book in the Lunar Chronicles.
But I'd also be lying if I said that I loved every page. There were several things that bothered me about Cinder: the fact that it is set in a future China, with architecture and some customs (like bowing) consistent with Eastern culture, but with characters running around with blond or curly chestnut hair wearing ballgowns reminiscent of 18th-century France (only one fancy kimono? What about modern dresses?), was a jarring contrast that I found unsettling and frustrating. I didn't feel fully grounded in the world of this book.
Additionally, I found the main character to be a little too bumbling and dense for my liking. A girl not saying what's on her mind once or twice I can understand and forgive, but this felt like too much, especially in moments where it was clear that spilling her guts to this guy who was: 1)very powerful; 2)obviously smitten with her; and 3)rich enough to pretty much buy her whatever she might need; would solve her problem. Then again, it would have made for a much shorter book. And you can forget about the series potential in a book where the main character does the thing that would obviously be easier and solve her problems.
But the thing that bothered me most was that I figured out the ending way before the heroine did - over 300 pages before. And while I appreciate a bit of well-placed foreshadowing, this was way too much lead-time for my liking. I was left feeling like the heroine was pretty stupid - certainly way more stupid than me. Which means I had trouble identifying with her.
I did enjoy the supporting cast of characters - I found Dr. Erland to be interesting and likeable, and Queen Levana and her minions are fascinating. They were enough to keep me turning the pages.
HOWEVER, the real strength with Cinder - and I think this is what will make this book successful - lies in the handling of the romance, which Marissa Meyer does very, very well here. Kai is sprinkled throughout the book in just the right doses, and he is just the right mix of upfront and playful to keep readers guessing when he's going to make his next move, and what that move will be. For writers of YA with a strong romantic element, this is a book to study.
Teen readers will be clamouring for the next one.