“It is easier to trick others into perceiving you as beautiful if you can convince yourself you are beautiful. But mirrors have an uncanny way of telling the truth.”
I read Cinder alongside Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass recently for a fairytale retelling essay thing (they’re both “Cinderella” retellings, in case you didn’t get that from the title), and there’s simply no comparison. Cinder is in every way my favourite of the two.
Linh Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing, a futuristic city haunted by a terrible plague. She’s also a cyborg, legally owned by her resentful stepmother, who, in true Cinderella style, forces her to fund the family’s lifestyle while never lifting a finger herself. Once upon a time, Crown Prince Kai stops by her market stall (like princes do on a regular basis), and Cinder is drawn into a world of intrigue and interplanetary politics – and all the while the plague rages.
It has to be said that there are improbabilities to this story – like the fact that Cinder can apparently wander up to the palace whenever she feels like a chat with the royal doctor, or the idea that cyborgs pay through the nose for life-saving surgery only to become second-class citizens. But what is a fairytale if not improbable? And it has to be said that Meyer (Marissa, not Stephenie) does a terrific job of reinterpreting the most troubling elements of the original tale – the abusive stepmother, the random prince wandering around just waiting to marry a commoner – in ways that feel modern and interesting. The cyborg element, especially, is inspired: it opens up a whole new range of questions about bodily sovereignty, about ownership, about humanity. Cinder feels like a book that has something new to bring to an old tale, which is, after all, the point of retellings.
The worldbuilding here, too, is solid and convincing: I especially loved the political relations of New Beijing with the countries of Earth and with the menacing, glamorous (literally) Lunars. While the Lunars are blatantly updated versions of Asimov’s Spacers, they’re also integrated seamlessly with the fairytale elements of Cinder – there’s clearly a “Snow White” motif emerging, with mentions of mirrors and jealousy and murder.
Characterisation, often a weak spot in fairytales, is strong: both Cinder and Kai have overriding, pragmatic motives for all that they do, although Cinder’s stepmother Adri, as well as her sisters Pearl and Peony, tend to the one-dimensional. And if the final twist was a little predictable, well, that’s a fairy tale for you.
I fully intend to read ALL THE SEQUELS to Cinder, which all seem to be fairytales as well. Bring on the Evil Space Queens!