Okay, I'm going to level with you. This is a cyborg Cinderella story. There's just no mincing around the simple fact that the most economical way to describe Marissa Meyer's YA novel Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) is to admit that it's "a cyborg Cinderella story." When a friend handed me this galley and described it as such, I winced. I say it even now and I wince. (The cover sure doesn't help here, either. It's dreadful.) But wince away, because Cinder is much better than such a simplistic summary would suggest, delivering a strong heroine, an interesting futuristic world, and a plot that weaves in subtle-but-not-too-contrived nods to the original Cinderella story.

Linh Cinder is a gifted mechanic working a stall at the market in New Beijing, the capitol city of the Commonwealth. She also happens to be a teenage orphan and a cyborg. An accident at the age of eleven killed her parents, wiped out Cinder's memory, and left her as a part human, part robot creation, with both flowing blood and electronic wiring. Following that accident, Cinder was taken on as a ward to the Linh family by Linh Garan, but unfortunately Lihn Garan died right after this act of kindness and as a result, Cinder's been treated like a servant by Garan's wife Linh Adri and her two daughters, Pearl and Peony (well, by Adri and Pearl -- Peony is Cinder's only human friend and actually seems like a decent sort, if a bit silly). Since Cinder is a cyborg, she is a second-class citizen in everyone's eyes and she's actually considered the property of Linh Adri, so all income earned by Cinder in her market stall goes straight in to her wicked stepmother's pockets. Additionally, as a cyborg, Cinder could be drafted in to become a test subject for the government's research to find a cure to Leutmosis, a disease that has been ravaging the country for over a decade. It's luck alone that has kept her name from being called up, though Cinder is aware that the only reason Linh Adri hasn't "volunteered" Cinder for the draft testing is because they need her income from the market stall.

The novel opens with Cinder working in the market (well, sitting in her stall while dealing with her own too-small robotic foot that hasn't been upgraded since she was eleven) when an unlikely client shows up -- Prince Kai, the eighteen-year-old prince that will very soon become Emperor. Cinder recognizes him immediately (beyond her computer identification, her stepsisters are obsessed with the prince, along with practically every other single female in the Commonwealth), but he's dressed to blend in and is seeking the services of the mechanic Linh Cinder, of whom he's heard excellent things. Surprised to find that the teenage girl before him is the famed mechanic, the prince shifts in to pleasant bantering with Cinder as he requests that she fix his tutor android without wiping its memory. Cinder can tell that this isn't simply a sentimental request to restore the tutor droid, but takes on the job and says she will try to have it completed before the upcoming festival in two weeks. Naturally, things happen that delay this critical fix, though this doesn't stop Cinder and the Prince from running in to each other repeatedly. Prince Kai's father dies and he must prepare himself to become Emperor... which primarily means preparing himself to face down with the Lunar Queen, the power-hungry ruler of the strangely evolved race that lives on the moon. Cinder's beloved stepsister Peony contracts leutmosis after going out on an errand with Cinder and, blaming this tragedy on Cinder, Lihn Adri volunteers Cinder for the cyborg draft. Cinder does not die, but instead becomes a very interesting test subject to a rather interesting research doctor at the palace and I'll stop there before I summarize too much, but just accept that (in Cinderella style), there's a coach and a dress and a ball. Of course, this book is only the beginning of Cinder's story. Indeed, this series is slated to feature four books and while I can't quite conceive of what, exactly, will possibly occupy our time for long enough to take four books, I'm very interested to see what the next book has in store.

By far, the best thing to recommend this story is Cinder herself, a resourceful heroine who's been trampled upon for most of her life and will find herself in somewhat impossible situations... yet rises to great challenges to do what she can for those who care. She doesn't have much self-confidence, but is convinced that if she (with Iko in tow) can just get out of the Commonwealth and start somewhere new, like Europe, then she might have a short at a decent life, free from Linh Adri's control. Iko feels a little like an over-the-top Disney sidekick, with her vibrant personality and her own robotic crush on the prince. I wasn't terribly sold on Prince Kai's interest in Cinder, though I appreciate that they have multiple meetings, so it's not just a one-shot deal where he sees this slightly dirty mechanic and becomes smitten just because she's not some palace girl throwing herself in his path. The Lunar Queen is rather evil for evil's sake, so I'm looking forward to future books where we'll inevitably gain more information about the Lunar race. So yes, indeed, it's Cinder carrying the story, and yet I didn't mind that all too much. I'll definitely be reading the next installment to see what happens to Cinder and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for deeper character development for those in the cast beyond Cinder.

Please note: this review is based off an ARC.



As the hot YA book of the summer, Divergent is a fast-paced and very interesting dystopian fiction from so-young-it-hurts Veronica Roth. Fans of the ever-growing dystopian genre will appreciate that, while many tried-and-true elements are here, Roth manages to keep the story fresh and fascinating. A perfect summer read, I highly recommend this as a great book to include on any weekend beach getaways. Oh, and it's set in a future Chicago, so folks from the Windy City will likely enjoy this even more than others.

Beatrice Prior lives in a Chicago where factions determine the kind of life you lead. Each faction highlights a particular virtue, suggesting that its members value this virtue above all others and it is how those members are defined -- Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave). You may be born in to a particular faction, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's where you'll cast your lot when you turn sixteen and make the biggest choice of your life. Beatrice and her twin brother were born in to Abnegation; for Beatrice, the question of leaving her family is too painful to even really consider, but when Beatrice undergoes the dream test that is supposed to confirm the predictions of where each person will end up, Beatrice's test results come up shockingly (and dangerously) inconclusive. With this information suddenly placing the weight of the decision entirely on her own shoulders, Beatrice makes a surprising decision -- and, incidentally, so does her brother, though their decisions leave their family scattered in ways they never saw coming. There's little time to mourn what must be left behind, though, as Beatrice is whisked off towards initiation rites that leave her gasping for breath and horrified that she might not measure up, and so be cast out to become Factionless. As Beatrice struggles with what her inconclusive test status might mean for her, she throws herself in to the initiation rights and renames herself "Tris." She makes friends and enemies, and even takes tentative steps towards something more with one of her instructors, a rather withdrawn young man known as "Four." This is definitely the first step on a long road for Tris, but Roth presents a fast-paced and compelling world, riddled with interesting choices for people who believe they have none.

There are a large number of dystopian novels out there these days, but Divergent definitely one of the better ones. Granted, it is still one where, at this point in the game, you just kind of have to accept the societal structure (seriously, HOW would we progress to a point where these factions would form?), but once you've done that, you can enjoy the fascinating details and repercussions of focusing on one value. Tris is a character that audiences will love and her "divergent" nature presented right up front is an interesting concept. (Most books would let her whine and wonder if she's different before confirming it was late in the book, if ever.) While you know she's eventually going to be fine (or at least still be alive at the end of the book), its quite interesting to watch her friends and try to understand their trajectories towards success or failure within their faction. Roth doesn't shy away from killing characters, folks, so be prepared. The inevitable romance with Four still has a few tricks up its sleeve, I think, and I'm betting we can count on Roth to make sure that there's no such thing as smooth sailing in Tris and Four's future.

Overall, Divergent is a great summer read if you're ready to just enjoy something and not overthink it. Since Veronica Roth is so young, I think we can expect to see a great deal of YA lit from her in the future. Fingers crossed that it's all as good (if not better!) than her debut.

Please note: while I do not work on this book, it does factor in to my professional life, so weight my review as you see fit.