narfna’s #CBR5 Review #25: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet-cover-BIGThe next time I decide to start a series just as book one is published, will somebody please come find me and slap me in the face? It would be much appreciated.

And I’m not just talking about the annoyance of having to wait a year in between books, although I hate that pretty much a lot. I’m also talking about the high probability that the series you are reading is less satisfying to read spread out over a period of years rather binged on in a couple of frenzied weeks (or if it’s really, good, days) like I prefer to do. For series I really love, this isn’t as much of a problem, because I’ll just go back and re-read the previous books, but for series I just like (i.e. these here Lunar Chronicles), the characters and storylines are diminished in the waiting. I lose my emotional connection to the story and I forget crucial plot threads. And I just don’t have time to re-read, dammit.

All of that is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Scarlet, because I did. It’s actually a really good second book, especially after having read a bunch of dud second books lately. (Disappointing second books in a series, included but not limited to: Requiem, Insurgent, Prodigy, Crossed, etc.)

When I first read Cinder last year, I didn’t realize that each book would be loosely based on a different fairy-tale. I was a bit worried that adding new protagonists to the series would take away from Cinder’s story, but the alternating narrative in my opinion actually energized the story. Cinder was a bit flabby in parts, whereas Scarlet was more streamlined. Scarlet, the character, is Meyer’s answer to Little Red Riding Hood. The way Meyer adapts the story is actually really neat (I think she did a much better job with RRH than she did with Cinderella). In Meyer’s version, Little Red is a young girl named Scarlet living in future France with her grandmother, who is a farmer. Only, her grandmother has gone missing and there is something very weird going on that Scarlet is unaware of. I was also worried going in that Cinder’s and Scarlet’s stories would be awkwardly forced together, but they’re not. It all feels organic, and when the two narratives inevitably meet up, it’s pretty great.

I did have some minor issues with this one (as much as I liked Wolf as a character, it’s getting a bit old that every YA novel now has to hae a love story — though, I suppose this comes with the fairy-tale territory; also, the trajectory of Scarlet and Wolf’s relationship was a bit predictable, if enjoyable), but overall, it was just a really fun read. I love the fairy-tale angle. I love the brightly colored sci-fi future Meyer has created. And I’m really excited about books three and four (which will apparently be based on Rapunzel and Snow White, respectively).

Id’s #CBR5, #1 – Cinder by Marissa Meyer


(This review is of the audiobook version.)

I’m a middle-aged white guy, I don’t fall for these things.  Really.

Of course, we all know that’s a load of fei hua, especially when you have kids involved, especially daughters with vivid imaginations.  Before we know it, we’ve been sucked into worlds alarmingly overshaded in pink, & hidden princesses are on every corner and they don’t have negotiable affections.  If you’re geek like me, Cinder is about as far as you’re going to nudge your darling child toward worlds and characters that don’t have an automatic Disney surcharge.

Meyer’s Cinderella is a 17 year-old mechanic that’s first introduced to us replacing her foot.  Cinder is cyborg – her left leg and hand are mechanical following an accident & a childhood she doesn’t remember.  Her prosthetics define her in status in a rebuilt post-world war city of New Bejing, because cyborgs have no human rights.  Cyborgs all have caretaker guardians; and it’s from here we begin to see how the Cinderella fairy tale is woven into a semi-dark science fiction world.  Throw in a world pandemic & lunar humans with a mental telepathy mutation, and you got a romping science fantasy.

Meyer’s gifts in Cinder are her easy prose and world-building, but not necessarily her plot and characters. Weaker plot and character are not a surprise – this is one of the exponentially growing number of ‘young adult’ books being marketed right now. It’s a post-modern rewriting of a fairytale, so the story was thin to begin with, but I rarely see the plot chapters in advance when reading. Meyer very broadly telegraphs her destinations. Ms. Meyer’s strongest plot element is addressing the rights of posthumans, but doesn’t develop it beyond ‘they are this, oppression is bad.’  Cinder, the heroine, is very teenaged – obsessing over issues of identity and anger, so if you hated those long ghastly passages in The Order of the Phoenix, you’re going to find your patience tested again.  The real reward is in the characters of the over-the-top pure sociopathic & racist behavior of the EVIL QUEEN Levanna (She’s so dramatic, she has to be written in CAPS!) and the mostly-wicked step-mother Lihn Adri.

There’s just enough detail that readers can fill in the images and feel the surface of a much different world, but not be overwhelmed. Meyer has obviously done her research on far eastern cultures, but she doesn’t spend her time detailing those differences.  Which is probably my greatest criticism — this book could have been really, really good, not just fun, if the author had the talent or drive to create a much more detailed culture and characters.  Yeah, I know, ‘young adult”, ages 12 & up, yadda yadda . . and I really miss the creative cursing in mandarin, ta ma de. The final chapter of the book is exceptionally frustrating as the story ends without resolution of the immediate problem.

This is of course a serialized novel plan called the Lunar Chronicles, with 3 other announced books to follow. The following books, Scarlet, Cress & Winter, will also add Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Snow White to the continuing story of Cinder. (Rapunzel makes a cameo appearance in this book, and Snow White is mentioned several times.)

Our reader, Rebecca Soler, is capable, doesn’t get in front of the story and keeps it interesting.

Recommended for pre-teen & teen readers, or anyone looking for a lazy day book. Not recommended for serious adult science fiction readers who can’t turn off.