Today I Read…Cinder

CinderToday I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles.

Linh Cinder knows exactly what she is–her nasty stepmother, her cruel neighbours, and the entire Empire never let her forget. Cinder is a cyborg–someone who should have died from serious injuries, but was saved through science and the robotic parts that replace her spine, her arm, and her foot. But saved for what reason? Cyborgs aren’t citizens, they have no rights, they aren’t even considered to be human. Cinder is an ugly waste of life, a burden on her stepmother who has two real, living daughters to care for, despite the fact that it is Cinder’s skills as a mechanic that bring in the money to support their family.

But then one day Prince Kaito, the heir to the Empire, comes into her little shop in the marketplace and asks her to fix his personal android. He’s kind, and smart, and funny, and handsome–and he has no idea that Cinder isn’t human. But Cinder can’t just avoid him, even if she wanted to–the royal physician Dr. Erland thinks that she is immune to the deadly letumosis plague that has been ravaging the world for the last few years. He hopes to use her blood to create a cure, and she can’t possibly say no–her little sister Peony, the only member of her family that she loves, is sick with the plague, and Cinder would do anything to save her. Even go to the palace and risk Kai discovering her secret.  The stakes are raised even higher when Cinder finds out that Queen Levana, the wicked and despotic queen of the Moon, is plotting to marry Kai so she can kill him and invade the Earth. What’s a cyborg in love with a prince to do but crash the ball?

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Cinder is a really interesting take on the Cinderella story, and I’m particularly interested by the class system that the cyborgs are a part of. Marissa Meyer supposedly decided to make Cinderella a cyborg when she wondered what would happen if Cinderella lost a foot instead of a shoe on the stairs at the ball. Cyborgs are an artificial (pun intended) lower class, with the idea that anyone who has been injured and repaired through cyborg technology is living on borrowed time, and therefore no longer human and not deserving of any rights. This is the justification used for cyborgs being drafted as unwilling plague test subjects–that the cyborgs are repaying the extra life that they owe society for saving them the first time. Cinder, as a cyborg, is under the permanent guardianship of her stepmother, a ‘real’ human, and legally cannot own the money that she earns through her work. This kind of class system in real life is usually based on traits that you are born with, and the justification is that certain people were ‘born inferior.’ It often appears with the companion justification that oppression is for the minority’s own good, really–the reason why women needed a male guardian and could not own property until about the 1800s, why black people needed to be enslaved, why gay people do not deserve the right to marriage or children, etc. In Cinder we see the same justifications used on a new group of people, to the point that Cinder believes what she’s told–that being cyborg, something that was done to her without her express permission when she was a child, and that she can’t even remember–makes her unclean, ugly, worthless, and undeserving of love or respect. While she is angry at the way she personally is mistreated, she still internalizes all of those attitudes about cyborgs, which is demonstrated when she can’t believe that Prince Kai could ever like her if he knew what she really was. Cinder’s self-image is as a cyborg first, and as a person second.

Kai is much more fleshed out that a simple prince-shaped way out of Cinder’s terrible life. He’s not simply charming to Cinder, but funny, honest, kind, and respectful of her skills as a mechanic. While he is very conscious of his position as the prince and heir to a large empire, when he requests a favour it is distinctly a request for a favour and not an order for something that he feels entitled to. We see Kai dealing with his father’s illness, the political problems caused by his father’s death and Kai’s coronation, and how he interacts with the other world leaders, and with the evil Queen Levana. He hates and distrusts her, but he puts aside his own feelings to do what he thinks is best for the Commonwealth.

The secret of Cinder’s birth is pretty heavily foreshadowed throughout the book–anyone paying at least a little attention will quickly figure out who she is–but the secret of how she came to be a cyborg and living with the Linh family is not revealed until later in the series. It’s still a long way off until ‘and they all lived happily ever after’–for one thing, I don’t recall the prince arresting Cinderella after the ball–but I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Cinder doesn’t wait around to be rescued by the prince–she’s the one who tries to rescue him. She doesn’t entirely succeed, but she does warn him of the danger he is in, even when the warning puts her in more danger herself.

I really like this book. It will be appreciated by anyone who likes rewritten fairy tales, especially ones with a feminist bent. Since it is a YA book, it will also be good for kicking off a discussion about class systems and inequalities, as I mini-essayed above. Meyer includes some discussion questions, including some writing exercises and visual art questions, for classes and book clubs on her website here.

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Adri lifted her chin and finally acknowledged Cinder’s presence by swiping her gaze down Cinder’s filthy boots and cargo pants. “Why aren’t you at the market?”

“It closed down early today,” said Cinder, with a meaningful look at the netscreen that Adri didn’t follow. Feigning nonchalance, Cinder thrust a thumb toward the hall. “So I’ll just go get cleaned up, and then I’ll be ready for my dress fitting.”

The seamstress paused. “Another dress, Linh-ji? I did not bring material for—”

“Have you replaced the magbelt on the hover yet?”

Cinder’s smile faltered. “No. Not yet.”

“Well, none of us will be going to the ball unless that gets fixed, will we?”

Cinder stifled her irritation. They’d already had this conversation twice in the past week. “I need money to buy a new magbelt. 800 univs, at least. If income from the market wasn’t deposited directly into your account, I would have bought one by now.”

“And trust you not to spend it all on your frivolous toys?” Adri said toyswith a glare at Iko and a curl of her lip, even though Iko technically belonged to her. “Besides, I can’t afford both a magbelt and a new dress that you’ll only wear once. You’ll have to find some other way of fixing the hover or find your own gown for the ball.”

Irritation hardened in Cinder’s gut. She might have pointed out that Pearl and Peony could have been given ready-made rather than custom dresses in order to budget for Cinder’s as well. She might have pointed out that they would only wear their dresses one time too. She might have pointed out that, as she was the one doing the work, the money should have been hers to spend as she saw fit. But all arguments would come to nothing. Legally, Cinder belonged to Adri as much as the household android and so too did her money, her few possessions, even the new foot she’d just attached. Adri loved to remind her of that.

So she stomped the anger down before Adri could see a spark of rebellion.

“I may be able to offer a trade for the magbelt. I’ll check with the local shops.”

Adri sniffed. “Why don’t we trade that worthless android for it?”

Iko ducked behind Cinder’s legs.

“We wouldn’t get much for her,” said Cinder. “Nobody wants such an old model.”

“No. They don’t, do they? Perhaps I will have to sell both of you off as spare parts.” Adri reached forward and fidgeted with the unfinished hem of Pearl’s sleeve. “I don’t care how you fix the hover, just fix it before the ball—and cheaply. I don’t need that pile of junk taking up valuable parking space.”

Cinder tucked her hands into her back pockets. “Are you saying that if I fix the hover and get a dress, I can really go this year?”

Adri’s lips puckered slightly at the corners. “It will be a miracle if you can find something suitable to wear that will hide your”—her gaze dropped to Cinder’s boots—“eccentricities. But, yes. If you fix the hover, I suppose you can go to the ball.”

Peony flashed Cinder a stunned half smile, while her older sister spun on their mother. “You can’t be serious! Her? Go with us?”

Cinder pressed her shoulder into the door frame, trying to hide her disappointment from Peony. Pearl’s outrage was unnecessary. A little orange light had flickered in the corner of Cinder’s vision—Adri had not meant her promise.

“Well,” she said, attempting to look heartened. “I guess I’d better go find a magbelt then.”

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Cinder shuffled around the random tools that had collected beneath the worktable. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not going.”

“But it does matter. It’s the ball. And the prince!”

“Iko, I’m fixing an android for him. It’s not like we’re friends now.” Mentioning the prince’s android sparked a memory, and a moment later Cinder pulled the floor jack out from behind its tread. “And it doesn’t matter because Adri will never let me go.”

“She said if you fixed the hover—”

“Right. And after I fix the hover? What about Peony’s portscreen that’s always acting up? What about—” She scanned the room and spotted a rusty android tucked away in the corner. “What about that old Gard7.3?”

“What would Adri want with that old thing? She doesn’t have a garden anymore. She doesn’t even have a balcony.”

“I’m just saying that she has no real intention of letting me go. As long as she can come up with things for me to fix, my ‘chores’ will never be done.” Cinder shoved a couple jack stands into her bag, telling herself that she didn’t care. Not really.

She wouldn’t fit in at a formal ball anyway. Even if she did find dress gloves and slippers that could hide her metal monstrosities, her mousy hair would never hold a curl, and she didn’t know the first thing about makeup. She would just end up sitting off the dance floor and making fun of the girls who swooned to get Prince Kai’s attention, pretending she wasn’t jealous. Pretending it didn’t bother her.

Although she was curious about the food.

And the prince did know her now, sort of. He had been kind to her at the market. Perhaps he would ask her to dance. Out of politeness. Out of chivalry when he saw her standing alone.

The precarious fantasy crashed down around her as quickly as it had begun. It was impossible. Not worth thinking about.

She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.

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Kai shrugged and turned to Cinder. His eyes softened a little with a polite bow of his head. “I hope our paths will cross again.”

“Really? In that case, I guess I’ll keep following you.” She regretted the joke for half a breath before Kai laughed. A real laugh, and her chest warmed.

Then the prince reached for her hand—her cyborg hand.

Cinder tensed, terrified that he would feel the hard metal, even through her gloves, and yet even more afraid to pull away lest he find it suspicious. She mentally urged the robotic limb to go soft, to be pliant, to be human, as she watched Kai lift the hand and kiss the back of it. She held her breath, overwhelmed and embarrassed.

The prince released her, bowed—his hair falling into his eyes again—and left the room.

Cinder stood frozen, her wired nerves humming.

She heard Dr. Erland grunt in curiosity, but the door opened again as soon as it had closed.

“Gracious,” Dr. Erland muttered as Kai stepped back inside.

“Pardon me, but might I have one more brief word with Linh-mèi?”

Dr. Erland flicked his wrist toward her. “By all means.”

Kai turned to her, still in the doorway. “I know this sounds like very poor timing, but trust me when I say my motives are based on self-preservation.” He inhaled a sharp breath. “Would you consider being my personal guest at the ball?”

The floor dissolved beneath Cinder. Her mind blanked. Surely, she hadn’t heard correctly.

But he just stood, patient, and after a long moment raised both his eyebrows in a mute prompt.

“E-excuse me?”

Kai cleared his throat. Stood straighter. “I assume you are going to the ball?”

“I-I don’t know. I mean, no. No, I’m sorry, I’m not going to the ball.”

Kai drew back, confused. “Oh. Well…but…maybe you would change your mind? Because I am, you know.”

“The prince.”

“Not bragging,” he said quickly. “Just a fact.”

“I know.” She gulped. The ball. Prince Kai was asking her to the ball. But that was the night she and Iko would be running away, if the car was fixed in time. The night she would escape.

Besides, he didn’t know who, what, he was asking. If he knew the truth…how mortified would he be if anyone found out?

Kai shifted on his feet, casting a nervous glance toward the doctor.

“I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “Thank you—I…Thank you, Your Highness. But I must respectfully decline.”

He blinked. His eyes fell as he processed her response. Then he lifted his chin and attempted a grin that was almost painfully dejected. “No, it’s all right. I understand.”

Dr. Erland leaned back against his desk. “My sincerest condolences, Your Highness. In more ways than one, it seems.”

Cinder cast him a frosty glare, but he focused his attention on cleaning his spectacles again.

Kai scratched behind his neck. “It was nice to see you again, Linh-mèi.”

She flinched at the return of the formality and made to speak, her voice catching at apologies, explanations, but the prince didn’t wait for them. The door was already shutting behind him.

She snapped her jaw shut, thoughts sparking in her head. Dr. Erland clucked his tongue, and Cinder prepared to rail at him with those budding explanations, but he turned away before she could and paced back to his seat.

“What a shame you cannot blush, Miss Linh.”

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5 thoughts on “Today I Read…Cinder

  1. Pingback: Today I Read…Scarlet | wadingthroughbooks

  2. Pingback: Today I Read…Cinderella Ate My Daughter | wadingthroughbooks

    • I’m really enjoying this series- I’ve also reviewed Scarlet, and my review for Cress is coming soon. Marissa Meyer has done an excellent job fitting each character into the archetype while still molding them into her world.

  3. Pingback: Today I Read…Cress | wadingthroughbooks

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