Feiwel & Friends, 2012
Cinder is a cyborg mechanic (a mechanic who is a cyborg, not a mechanic who repairs cyborgs) in futuristic New Beijing. Her cyborg status keeps her the legal property of her wicked stepmother, and few who discover what she is are willing to entertain the possibility that her mechanically patched brain remains capable of human emotion. With the help of a faulty robot, Iko, and her little stepsister, Peony, Cinder plots her escape, but a deadly plague, a looming war with the Lunar people, and a growing friendship under false pretenses with Prince Kai all threaten to derail her plans.
The Cinderella story is decidedly unfinished at the cliffhanger ending, which might not be so terrible in the context of a series (which I have not finished), but the second book’s change of protagonist certainly underscores said cliffhanger’s abruptness. Cinder’s cyborg elements, while a constant presence in her life, could also have been taken better advantage of. It’s clear from the beginning that Cinder thinks and feels exactly like a human and is held back only by physical and social disadvantages. While the ultimate message that Cinder is the equal of the humans around her is crucial, the effects of her artificial wiring on her daily functioning could have been a fascinating angle for exploration. Her programming includes and built-in lie detector, for example, which could have allowed for some wonderfully telling scenes of dialogue but isn’t used for much other than foiling the evil plot.
Cinder draws heavy inspiration from the source fairytale but doesn’t allow itself to be confined by it. The wicked stepmother is sufficiently horrifying, while the relationship between Cinder and Peony, her one not-at-all-wicked stepsister, adds both much needed sweetness and complexity to her home life. Both Cinder and Prince Kai are likeable, both doing their best at handling the separate but occasionally intersecting challenges and horrors of their lives, Kai his ascension to ruling a plague-ravaged and politically unstable country, Cinder her enslavement and forced medical testing as a cyborg. Their romance is easy to root for in the face of the diverging courses their subplots take, and never does it reduce either of them to the faceless prize of a fairytale prince or the girl who cares about nothing but going to the ball.
Effective as sci-fi, as fairytale, and as a series intro, this one has me eager to catch up on the rest.
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