Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Book Review

Posted by on Dec 17, 2012 in Disability and or Neuro-diversity, Race and Ethnicity, Review | 0 comments

Cinder by Marissa Meyer – Book Review

by Holly Kench

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

From the Blurb:

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.

Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is like Blade Runner goes young adult/fairy tale. And it totally works.

I’m not usually a fan of Cinderella stories (except the version where the step-sisters hack off their heels, because the gore factor appeals to me), but this cyborg Cinderella is rocking. Meyers world has a very Philip K Dick feel to it, but the nuances of her world building are unique and flawlessly incorporated into the story.

The fairy tale adaptation aspect of this story is blatant. There’s certainly no denying this is a Cinderella story, and yet, Meyer has avoided a stale take by rewriting it in such a colorful new world. Equally, while I enjoyed the romance, I liked it even more that Meyer gives her protagonist so much more plot and action than that driven by the romance story line.

It was Meyers use of this science-fiction-fairy-tale to discuss difference, though, that really grabbed my attention.

Cinder is set in a future version of Earth, where race appears to be unidentifiable by anything such as skin colour. It is set in Asia, in New Beijing, which has the wonderful effect of recalling the old Chinese versions of Cinderella, while confusing our expectations of race and ethnicity in a story that has come to mean so much in Western culture. However, while race is not defined through our contemporary notions, there are clear hierarchies of difference and race in Meyer’s world.

In the world of Cinder, there is an ongoing animosity between Earth and the Lunars, a civilization of magical people who live on the moon. The hatred between the civilizations is profound, and, interestingly, the propaganda around the Lunars depicts them in a way similar to past Western depictions of Eastern civilizations, such as having a wiliness that is dependent on beauty and extravagance. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear that the hatred of the Lunars is not entirely justified and, as readers, our alliances become troubled. I like the way Meyer assumes the idea of an Earth without racial divide, only to create a new civilization to discuss and question our current and historical, societal issues around race. She leads us to assume the racism of her characters and then forces us to reassess that position.

Equally, Cinder‘s world has disturbing hierarchies around disability. Meyer uses the idea of cyborgs, humans with mechanical and computerised body parts, to create a hierarchy of worth among the humans in her story. As a cyborg herself, the recipient of a bionic foot, Linh Cinder experiences discrimination and social ostracism, which becomes apparent almost as soon as the story opens. As the tale progresses, we find out that the government is openly using cyborgs to test vaccines for a plague that is ravishing the humans of the Earth. Meyer makes it clear that in Cinder’s world the hierarchy between humans and cyborgs is a big part of their culture.

The government in Cinder willingly sacrifices the lives of cyborgs for humans, without any pretence to suggest they should do otherwise. Cyborgs such as Cinder are seen as less than human, in fact they are allocated a percentage of humanness (Cinder being 36.28% not human), based on the level of mechanical aids they use. Through this story, Meyer discusses issues of disability discrimination, when people are seen as somehow “less than” due to their disability. Equally, we get hints of issues such as the way our society views the worth of human lives when they are seen as different, particularly in regard to the need of physical and medical aids.

Although I found that some of the writing, with occasionally problematic grammar, sometimes jarred me back to reality, and while I choked that the tale ended in a cliff hanger, this was my favourite young adult novel of 2012, and I’m giving it that rare five out of five stars.

Cinder is the story of a girl who wants to go to a ball, falls in love with a prince, fights to save her family and friends, and tries to come to grips with her identity in a world that rejects, rather than celebrates, difference. I really look forward to the next installment.

Holly Kench

Visibility Fiction.

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