Authors repurposing age-old stories to suit much more modern tastes isn’t anything new.
For instance, Alex Flinn has made quite a career out of retellings such as “Beastly”, “A Kiss in Time”, and “Cloaked”. Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson stories have not only reintroduced Greek myths to young kids, but has also given the author several weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List and a movie franchise to boot.
The latest author to join the fray is debut novelist Marissa Meyer, who burst into the scene with “Cinder”. This modern science-fiction retelling of fairy tale favorite, “Cinderella”, landed Meyer a spot on the New York Times Bestseller List on the day of its release.
Surviving that crash would turn out to be one of the better things to happen to her, because life with her adoptive family is far from ideal. Her stepmother, Adri, doesn’t even consider her as human and only sees her as a source of income. Her stepsister Pearl looks upon her with contempt, and her circle of friends is limited to her younger stepsister, Pearl, and an android named Iko.
However, things take a much more interesting turn when the heir to the throne, Prince Kai, visits her stall and seeks her help with a malfunctioning android. What should have been just another repairing job turns out to be so much more as Cinder finds herself dragged into a world of intergalactic intrigue and exposed to the possibility of war.
It isn’t long before Cinder finds herself caught in the center of everything that is going on. As soon as it becomes apparent that she is much more than she thought she ever was, Cinder has to make a tough decision: Will she accept her destiny and everything that goes with it? Or will she leave all of that behind and choose the life she’s always planned out for herself?
Right from the very beginning of the novel, Meyer is quick to establish the many changes that she has wrought onto the Cinderella story we all know and love.
Gone is the European flavor that most of us remember from the classic Disney film adaptation of this famous fairy tale. Instead, we get New Beijing, a bustling metropolis that is decidedly Asian in flavor and certainly a refreshing departure from the usually Western-centric locations of most of today’s young adult novels.
And New Beijing isn’t just an exotic backdrop for the love story to play out in. It’s a city teeming with conspiracy and unrest, ravaged by a mysterious plague and living under the threat of invasion from the mysterious race of Lunars that live on the Earth’s moon. Meyer’s prose succeeds in giving New Beijing a dirty, gritty feel that is sure to be familiar to anyone who’s lived in a sprawling metropolis.
The fact that all the main characters in the story are Asian is also something to be excited about. In a publishing environment glutted with lily white protagonists and very little in the way of other races and nationalities, it will probably hearten young Asian readers to find heroes and heroines much like themselves.
Also equally entertaining are the ways that Meyer modernizes familiar aspects of the Cinderella story. Cinderella’s glass slippers have now become Cinder’s cyborg foot; the ashes that she slept in have now become grease stains acquired in her work as a mechanic; her carriage has now become a pumpkin-colored gas-powered automobile, a relic from a time long past.
Meyer has also done an exceptional job of expanding the scope of the traditional Cinderella story. For instance, Prince Kai isn’t just someone for the ladies to swoon over. In “Cinder”, he is a fleshed-out character, a monarch facing political and interstellar intrigues at too young an age.
Even the auxiliary characters that surround Cinder are entertaining to read, if a little more one-dimensional compared to Prince Kai. Adri and Peony are pitch perfect as the villains that the readers will probably love to hate, while Iko the cyborg provides the comic relief.
But it is in the character of Cinder that Meyer truly shines. No longer the shrinking violet that she was in the original story, Cinder is a young woman who has a plan, is skilled with her hands, intelligent, and independent. It’s telling that there is no fairy godmother equivalent in Meyer’s version of the Cinderella tale — all the changes that happen in Cinder’s life occur because she herself made it happen.
If there’s anything that hobbles “Cinder”, it is the fact that there is a predictability to the events that happen in the novel, due to the fact that Meyer still has to conform to the conventions of the original story. The specifics may differ, but the general story arc remains the same.
Thankfully, this predictability isn’t an insurmountable flaw. If readers approach “Cinder” with an open heart and mind, they definitely won’t regret taking the journey that the novel will take them on.
ETA: Thanks to Esther from Macmillan Audio, I’ve got an audiobook clip to share with you guys! Check out the first chapter of the Cinder audiobook here.