Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter by Marissa Meyer
I read it as a(n): audiobook
Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars for the series as a whole
The four main novels in the Lunar Chronicles series are all thoroughly tied up with each other, in the most delightful way possible. Cinder sets up most of the world-building and character introductions. The overarching plot is that Cinder, a young, part-cyborg mechanic from the Eastern Commonwealth (formerly China) and Kai, the Eastern Commonwealth’s Emperor, are trying to find Selene, the Lunar princess and rightful heir to Luna’s throne, who was long thought to have died in a fire as an infant. Kai doesn’t think that is true and is on a mission to find Selene and overthrow Levana, the evil Lunar Queen who killed her sister (the true queen) and her niece and took the Lunar throne for herself. The secondary plot is Levana’s determination to take over Earth, using what the Lunars call their “Gift” – the ability to sense and manipulate a person’s bioelectrical energy. As a result, Lunars can force humans or Lunars with weaker Gifts to do anything they want them to do. The Lunar gift has varying strength, apparently based on one’s social class, and the queen is the most powerful of all, followed by her thaumaturges, her highest councillors and advisors. They can force people to do anything from being silent to committing murder or suicide. The Lunar queen is one nasty bitch. Cinder plans to stop her.
Throughout the four books, Cinder is joined by Iko, the bubbly android with a faulty personality chip; Dr. Erland, the brilliant but unethical scientist trying to find a cure for a disease ravaging humanity; Carswell Thorn, an irreverent American spaceship captain who broke out of prison with Cinder; Scarlet, a French farmer whose missing grandmother knows something vital about Selene; a street fighter named Wolf who knows where Scarlet’s grandmother is; Cress, a Lunar girl who was born without the Lunar Gift and who has been kept alone on a satellite for years, forced to do technological spying for the Queen; Jason, a Royal Lunar guard who isn’t sure what side he should be on; and Winter, Levana’s stepdaughter who is slowly going insane because she refuses to use her Lunar gift.
Levana has a cure for the disease but she won’t give it to Earth unless Kai agrees to marry her and make her his Empress. Doing so will save millions of lives but also will all but ensure that Levana will kill Kai and use her power as Empress to take over Earth. She could do so through her Gift. Kai agrees to marry Levana to get the antidote, even though it’s the last thing he wants to do. Cinder, meanwhile, gets arrested for crashing Kai and Levana’s engagement ball, then breaks out and makes new friends while she is trying to help track down people who might know about the Lunar princess, Selene.
For those folks who are unaware, the four novels in this series are retellings of the classic fairy tales – you guessed it – Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meyer centers them all in a sci-fi setting, which is fucking awesome. It is set in some indeterminate point in the future. The years refer to the time since the 4th World War and the signing of a global peace treaty, so we don’t really know exactly how far ahead it is. The political climate is complex and nicely explained within the context of the overarching plot. I like that it doesn’t beat you over the head with billions of minute info-dump details but also doesn’t just gloss over politics altogether. Readers get a fully developed political system that is delivered as relevant bits of info throughout the series.
Similarly, each character is a complete, complex, imperfect, and conflicted individual. They each have their own distinctive voice and ideas. Their personalities are clear – I don’t think anyone would ever be confused as to whether they were reading Cinder or Cress, Thorn or Kai. I really loved that they are all imperfect. None of them are perfectly good or always certain of the right thing to do. They all are trying to do what they think is the right thing, but what that is doesn’t always mesh with what the others think. They are all good people – well, Cinder’s group is. Levana and her Lunars are garbage and you love to hate them – but they also all do “bad” things sometimes. Then they are conflicted about the things they did and the reasons they did them. No one is 100% certain and I think that’s great. It’s so much more realistic that way.
I also really loved the way the various characters and stories got all woven together. It was satisfying in a way the original fairy tales are not since they are self-contained stories of their own. It is more interesting when they all mingle and know each other. Kind of like the idea that the hunter who killed Bambi’s mom was Gaston from the film version of Beauty and the Beast, or that the sunken ship Ariel swims around in is the one that went down carrying Anna and Elsa’s parents. It’s all the same universe, folks. Similarly, Meyer weaves the various threads of these four fairy tales very nicely together into one satisfying Gordian knot of a bow.
The one thing I think was not at all well developed was the diversity. As in, I don’t think there was any anywhere in the entire series. Based on location and naming convention, it’s assumed that Cinder, Kai, Cinder’s stepmother and stepsisters, and Kai’s court are Asian. But there are no hints or outright descriptions of Asian culture otherwise. The same is true for all the other groups of beings as well. Nothing about them stands out as American or European or Commonwealth other than, in a couple cases, an accent. Even Cinder and Kai do not have any kind of accent that could be identified as coming from an Asian region. Winter is described as having dark skin and curly hair, and on the audiobook cover she is depicted as a young Black woman. Other than Winter, I am not entirely sure there were really any people of color in the series at all.
The same is true for LGBTQ+ and disabled characters. There wasn’t a single one of either community in the entire series unless you want to count Winter since she’s slowly going insane. But that is an identifiable disease within the Lunar Chronicles universe and by the end of the series she’s being treated for it so she can be “normal.” Maybe she meant for Thorn to be disabled because he lost his vision? But again, that lasted for about a month and then he went back to his old sighted self. You could really, really stretch and say Cress has social anxiety disorder, but again, she’s gotten over it by the end of the series and her shyness a) isn’t a disability and b) was a direct result of being locked away and never interacting with anyone besides the thaumaturge in charge of her for like a decade. Anyone would be a little socially awkward after that. So yeah. Meyer seriously needs to do better in terms of any kind of representation.
The lack of diversity makes me rate the series as a whole at 4 stars. I think Cinder, Cress, and Winter each rate 4 stars on their own as well. Scarlet was my least favorite of the series and I give it 3 stars.
I read these four books via audiobook. The narrator, Rebecca Soler, did a good job. Maybe a tad over emotional in some places where it wasn’t really warranted. But overall she was a decent narrator though I don’t think she will ever be one of my favorites.
I definitely recommend the series to all who love fairy tales and a good sci-fi space opera. It hits all those spots.