Romance and cakes: Marissa Meyer – Heartless

I like Marissa Meyer’s books. There’s very little reason for me to like them, but I do anyway, because they are comfort reads, they have fluffy romances, they play with fairy tales, and they are simply fun. In her first book not set in the Lunar Chronicles universe, Marissa Meyer shows that she has grown as a writer and is not running out of ideas.

HEARTLESS
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2016
Hardcover: 453 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Three luscious lemon tarts glistened up at Catherine.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

This is the story of how a lovely, ambitious young girl turned into the Queen of Hearts we all know from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and the very first thing I noticed and loved was that Catherine had hopes, and dreams, and agency! From the beginning, when Cath bakes a set of lemon tarts, we are shown that she loves baking and that she has plans to open her own bakery one day. She also has a best (female) friend! Be still, my heart, remember that there are good YA books out there and this is one of them.

Cath’s best friend is their family’s servant girl Mary Ann. While Cath is more of the creative, baking brain behind their shared plans, Mary Ann is good with numbers and approaches decisions logically – so she’s the business manager, if you like. Not only was it wonderful to see two girls being friends but to see them complement each other so beautifully in reaching their dream. Cath is also, however, the daughter of a Marquis and Marchioness, and thus spends a lot of her time at balls and tea parties thrown by the King of Hearts. Who has his eyes on her and might ruin her dream by asking her to marry him. Add to all that the new court Joker, and romance (and disaster) is bound to happen.

Many people have said that this book moves along more slowly than the Lunar Chronicles and that is true. But the slower pace only bothered me during the middle of the book. The beginning was wonderful because it set up the characters, who each have distinctive voices and mannerisms, and the world in which Cath lives. Sure, it’s Wondreland, but it’s not exactly the Wonderland we know. Marissa Meyer added a lot of little, original details that may remind you of Lewis Carroll’s novels, but give it a flavor of its own. Many well-known characters also make an appearance, and some of them get the chance to become quite three-dimensional. Thus, I suppose, the slower plot.

Hatta, this version’s Mad Hatter, quickly became a favorite of mine, although I also have a soft spot for Cheshire, who in turn has a soft spot for Cath’s baking. All the side characters who get to say a few words, had personality! As much as I loved The Lunar Chronicles, I can’t say that the characters were a strong point. In Heartless, however, they absolutely are. And while a lot of character development happens in the last quarter of the book, it does happen, and it is understandable why it happens.

With a villain’s origin story, it will always hinge on the reason they became evil. And the more I read about Catherine, the more I rooted for her and her dream bakery, the less I could imagine her turning into that dreadful Queen of Hearts who wants to chop everyone’s head off. I can’t tell you any details, but I really liked how things fell into place and turned Cath into an evil monarch. There is quite a lot of backstory to it all, and it involves many people other than Cath. There are some surprising revelations, and a few moments where you go “aaah, that’s why”. Cath’s transition happened maybe a bit too fast and I was devastated about her relationship with Mary Ann. But then, we always knew this wouldn’t be a book with a happy ending.

Because the middle really did drag along terribly, I am not completely in love with the book. But for a great beginning, strong characters, ideas worthy of Wonderland, a Poe-quoting raven, and a great way of turning a girl into a villain, I must give Marissa Meyer credit. She did a wonderful job with this and I hope she plans on revisiting more fairy tales. I know there are a lot of them already, but I’d love to see her origin story of Captain Hook.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

 

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Marissa Meyer – Wires and Nerve

I have no idea why, as the publication date everywhere (including Amazon, where I bought this) is listed as January 31st, but my pre-ordered copy of the first Lunar Chronicles graphic novel arrived at my house on Monday and, naturally, I couldn’t keep my hands off if for a second. The short version is: This is just like the novels themselves, fluffy, sweet, not very deep, but a wonderful read to crawl inside and get lost in for an afternoon.

wires-and-nerveWIRES AND NERVES Vol. 1
by Marissa Meyer
art by Doug Holgate

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2017
Hardback: 238 pages
Series: Wires and Nerve #1, The Lunar Chronicles #5
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, there were nine unlikely heroes…

In her first graphic novel, #1 New York Times and USA Today bestseller Marissa Meyer follows Iko, the beloved android from the Lunar Chronicles, on a dangerous and romantic new adventure — with a little help from Cinder and the Lunar team.

In her first graphic novel, bestselling author Marissa Meyer extends the world of the Lunar Chronicles with a brand-new, action-packed story about Iko, the android with a heart of (mechanized) gold. When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity. With appearances by Cinder and the rest of the Rampion crew, this is a must-have for fans of the bestselling series.

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There were a few things that Lunar Chronicle fans were still waiting for after the series ended. For one, some of the romances weren’t officially resolved. And Iko never got to be the center of the plot. Until now. Although all of our favorite heroes make an appearance, this is firmly Iko’s story. After the Revolution and Cinder’s ascension to the Lunar crown, Iko mostly helps her friend pick the right dress for the right occasion, but there is a lot of stuff still to do. Just because one evil queen was overthrown, the world doesn’t simply fix itself. And so starts Iko’s job as a secret agent.

We meet her right in the middle of some rogue wolf pack catching action and I knew I would adore this story as much as I did the novels. It doesn’t take long for Thorne and Cress to meet up with Iko, and from then on it’s a merry romp that alternates nicely between action scenes, slower, more exposition-heavy ones, romantic tension sub-plots, and adorably silly ones whenever Iko is in the same room as a frilly dress. If you’ve read The Lunar Chronicles you know exactly what I mean.

Although, information-wise, nothing much is added to what we already knew from the mail story, I really enjoyed getting some more background about Cinder’s struggle with being queen. This may bring us some slower pages where people talk a lot and explain stuff to each other but Marissa Meyer never forgets to add a bit of humor to keep things moving. If you’re worried that your favorite couple won’t be featured – don’t worry! Everyone makes an appearance, although to my utter delight, Cress and Thorne definitely took center stage. While it was wonderful seeing Cinder in her new position, she is on Luna and Kai is on Earth…

wires-and-nerve-cinder

My favorite parts (after seeing Cress and Thorne captaining the Rampion and just being wonderful) were the new romance that may happen for Iko. I even have a favorite page in which the author – and Iko – identify a romance trope and just roll with it. And it worked beautifully, both as the trope should and as a comment on its existence. That’s all I’m willing to say – you should all experience it spoiler-free and have as much fun as I did.

The plot as such isn’t super original, but our heroes have a nice new-ish threat to fight off and it gives them plenty of opportunity for doing what they do best: work as a team! When I started reading this, I kind of missed that it said “volume 1” right there on the spine, but the open ending didn’t feel too much like a cliff hanger. It was definitely a satisfying ending, although I am now painfully aware of how long I’ll have to wait for the sequel…

As this is a graphic novel, I want to say a little bit about the art. The style reminds me a bit of web comics you see and while this could have worked in a lavish, more detailed comic book style, I really enjoyed the simplicity of it. Not all characters look the way I want them to but they were all identifiable, they all look right and I felt that the artist managed to show their emotions really well, considering there isn’t a lot of detail. I also really loved the muted, blue color scheme and I honestly wouldn’t change this to full color if I could.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good fun!

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Here’s a page from the book that gives you an idea of what our heroes look like:

wires-and-nerve-characters

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Marissa Meyer – Fairest

I’m all caught up on the Lunar Chronicles! Until the short fiction collection Stars Above comes out, I can officially say I have read all the books in the series, including all the short stories available so far. That’s a good start into the new year and I promise, you won’t hear me talk about mediocre books in fangirlish ways for a while now.

fairest

FAIREST
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 222 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3.5
My rating: 6/10

First sentence: She was lying on a burning pyre, hot coals beneath her back.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

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Queen Levana was simultaneously one of the weakest and the strongest parts of The Lunar Chronicles as a whole. She is an Evil Queen of Evil whose Evilness is so obvious and unsubtle that I kept being surprised how nobody dared defy her. But then again, she is a Lunar and their gift for mind manipulation is a cool idea that would put terror into the bravest of people. When somebody can control your body and make you do awful things to yourself (or the people you love), I understand that you’d not want to make that person angry…

But Levana was a child once, too. This is her story. She grows up spoiled in the palace of Artemisia, her coldness eclipsed only by her sister Channery. Channery is not outright evil but, my gods, what a spoiled, careless, heartless brat! She just doesn’t care about other people and she enjoys being cruel. So yeah, maybe evil after all. Levana has sympathetic moments, although she clearly isn’t what I’d call an empathetic person. Her parents’ death leaves her cold and more annoyed at having to go to a funeral. It’s the effort she has to put into looking sad that bothers her, not the fact that she is now an orphan.

But Levana is capable of love (or so she thinks, at least). She falls in love with a palace guard and as things unfold, that love and her hatred of her sister becomes the catalyst for her entire personality. Fairest was a strange book and Marissa Meyer walked a fine line with it. The things she did well were Levana’s different sides. She doesn’t start out as a purely good person, but she’s not completely bad either. Levana shows different facets of her character and Fairest makes readers understand why certain aspects of her character were slowly killed off while others were fed by circumstance.

I found this pretty impressive because I didn’t think it was possible to make the Queen Bitch that is Levana appear sympathetic in any way whatsoever. But there are moments when – while not condoning her actions – the reasons for why she is the way she is are understandable to a point. This tightrope walk is a difficult thing to pull of and Meyer didn’t exactly nail it. Levana seems to have mood swings and they don’t always make sense. In one moment she would be a cold-hearted, naive teenager, then she would have downright evil thoughts of murder, then again she would read like a little lost girl who just wants to be loved by the man she has chosen. These different feelings don’t appear organically but seem almost accidental at times.

Story-wise, Fairest doesn’t offer much and the amount of repetition – especially when it came to Levana’s “love story” – got rather annoying. And, whoa, that love story was creepy! But as a bit of backstory, as a bridge book between two parts of the series, as an illustration of the most evil character in the books, this wasn’t half bad. It’s not a riveting read, because we know the outcome of the story beforehand and the journey just wasn’t exciting or surprising enough. But it wasn’t a bad book either.

fairest detail

This story is filled with moments of darkness, much more so than the main story arc of the series. Levana isn’t born into an easy life, no matter what we think about royalty. She is psychologically terrorised by her sister, she suffers physical harm and feels constantly worthless because of the scars she wears. She believes herself in love (I don’t know if I buy her actually loving anyone) but things don’t work out the way they should. This is nothing like a fairy tale and no prince is in sight to come rescue her. So Levana does what she can to take matters into her own hands. While her methods are terrifying, the motive is understandable. Under that veil, under that crown, there is a person who was once a girl with hopes and dreams. This is the story of how they were shattered.

I’ve had enough of The Lunar Chronicles for a while but I hold by my opinion that these are fun YA books, perfect for those times when you just don’t want perfect world-building or deep characters. If you go into this series without expecting much, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, you might be surprised at the moments of depth that creep up on you and peek around the corner. Fairest was NOT fun but highly interesting, in a look-into-a-microscope way.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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Second opinions:

 

Marissa Meyer – Winter

Dear me, I actually finished a book series. Well… not quite. With a bit of cheating, I guess. The in-between-prequel story of Queen Levana – Fairest – is still waiting on my shelf, unread, but the actual main story arc of The Lunar Chronicles is finished. This last instalment was unnecessarily long but still enjoyable for the same reasons I liked Cress.

winterWINTER
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel and Friends, 2015
Hardcover: 824 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #4
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Winter’s toes had become ice cubes.

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

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A widely-used trope in any given TV show is the couple that’s clearly meant for each other but whose love story is drawn out over season upon season in order to keep the tension. And you know what? I kind of love that stuff. That moment, when they finally get together, when all the unspoken feelings suddenly break free – that shit is utterly satisfying to watch. And books are no different. Marissa Meyer took a risk with keeping all of her couples sort of not-really-together until this final book in the Lunar Chronicles series. But it totally works and turns Winter into a firework of FEELS. Until it overdoes it and devliers twenty endings (sort of like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings).

The plot continues where we left off in Cress but Marissa Meyer has not been idle. The story may continue seamlessly but she ups her character-game a notch or two. What makes this such a pleasure to read is how these characters, based on fairy tales and by default one-dimensional and trope-laden, get together and work as a team. They each get to shine in their own right, they each show different sides of themselves that may have nothing to do with their fairy tale origin. Cress is brave, Scarlet is tough, Cinder doubts herself, Winter is clever. Seeing Thorne in emotional turmoil was a whole different story (I can’t help it, I have a thing for him) and Wolf’s brooding became more than just background decoration. This may all very well be due to my totally getting into this story and not seeing all the glaring faults this book may have. But, dear readers, I don’t care. I had a blast reading this.

Despite the ever growing cast of characters, this book is called Winter for a reason. It tells Winter’s story, the girl of otherworldly beauty that had the mistfortune of being Queen Levana’s stepdaughter. At the end of Cress, we got a little sneak peek into who Winter is and the impression everyone got was that we are dealing with an insane person. But Winter is more than that. She does suffer from a disability, but instead of crawling into a hole she uses this disability to her advantage.

The romance also differed from the ones in the previous books. We’ve had two strangers falling in love (Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf) and we had a couple where one person thought themselves in love before even meeting the other (Cress and Thorne), but here we have something much more realistic and believable, a romance that is great to read without the banter. Jacin and Winter have been friends forever and it’s no secret that Jacin loves her dearly. Winter’s feelings for him are not so well-known but neither of them hides their feelings very well in front of the other. What you get is total devotion and a love based on years spent together. What a refreshing thing to do in a series that lives off love at first sight.

The plot drags at several points but those are usually the same chapters that are full of tension because characters who clearly love each other are separated and fearing for the other’s life. I have to acknowledge the flaws in Winter but I don’t have to let them keep me from enjoying the book. Sometimes, you need a little silliness, a dumb revolution plot that sounds ridiculous and totally unbelievable. But who cares when you’ve got fairy tale princesses kicking ass, androids fangirling about princes, and four romantic couples that draw out their romance for as long as humanly possible.

luna - artemisia

Up until the climax, Marissa Meyer keeps up the pacing well enough (with the caveat mentioned above), and it was interesting to see the Lunar society and how they live. But once the action is over and it’s time to pick up the pieces of this war, things are reaaaaaally drawn out without any reason I could see. The thing is, by this point, all the romantic sub-plots are done. We know who ends up with whom, who lives, who dies, who is broken forever and who makes it out of this unscathed. There were just too many chapters dealing with the aftermath, without really delivering anything that I could consider satisfying. Plus, it all just seems a bit too easy. Nonetheless, a handful of boring chapters don’t ruin a book (a 97-chapter strong one, at that).

These books won’t become classics or end up on best of lists by critics of High Literature (I write this in my snooty voice), but, my gods, are they fun to read! Ever since Cress, the problems with plotting and character development have decreased and left me free to enjoy all the stuff that happens and yearn for my favorite couple to finally get together – in case you haven’t guessed it, I ship Cress and Thorne. It must be said, however, that Scarlet and Wolf, the two characters I cared the least about during this entire series, have actually grown on me. Cinder and Kai still haven’t returned to their glory from the first book, but who cares when there are enough other characters to root for?

As a whole, this series had many problems. But the moment I just stopped thinking about anything too hard (or at all), I could enjoy these science fiction fairy tales. Winter was a romp of fun and action, romance and teamwork. Now it’s time to go back and read about why Levana is such a bitch of epic proportions.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

Marissa Meyer – Lunar Chronicles short fiction

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

I hope your holidays are full of awesome bookish gifts and great food and fun.


Now back to business…After reading Cress, I finally clicked with the Lunar Chronicles and needed to catch up on all the short stories. If you’re interested in “Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky”, you can get the story by subscribing to Marissa Meyer’s newsletter. I’ve included links to where you can read the other stories.

Lunar Chronicles #0.5 – Glitches

Published by: Tor.com, 2011
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
32 pages
My rating:
6/10
First sentence: “Are you ready to meet your new family?”

Tglitcheshis Tor.com short story was surprisingly touching. It tells of an eleven-year old Cinder who just comes to join her new family. The connection with her younger stepsister Peony is immediate, almost the same way her new stepmother Adri and her eldest daughter Pearl take a dislike to Cinder, for no more reason than that she has a mechanical hand and leg. But, as readers of the Lunar Chronicles well know, Cinder’s cyborg-ness gives her a few other perks that she discovers in this short story for the first time. The surprising part was the ending. Cinder discvoers her skills as a mechanic – to no reader’s surprise – but I didn’t expect this short story to end on such a bitter note, although of course everyone who’s read Cinder (or Cinderella, for that matter) knows that the stepfather cannot stay with the family for long… a good little story that doesn’t really do anything for the greater worldbuilding but is a nice addition to what has been established in Cinder.

Lunar Chronicles #0.6 – The Little Android

Published by: Wattpad, 2014
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
35 pages
My rating:
7/10
First sentence: Mech6.0 stood against the hangar’s charging wall, one of hundreds of mute sentinels watching the passengers flutter by with their hovering luggage carts and excited chatter.

little android“The Little Android” is a retelling of The Little Mermaid set in the world of the Lunar Chronicles, although only very loosely tied to the main story. Cinder makes an appearance as – who’d have guessed – the witch that gives the little mermaid her legs but takes her voice. I actually adored how Meyer translated all the plot points from the fairy tale into her own science fictional world. It’s all there. The rescue of the prince (although he’s not a prince), the rival girl who is really lovely, the new legs, the muteness… Mech6.0 was an android to root for and the ending – heartbreaking as it must be, considering the source material – was on point. This fleshes out the world of New Beijing before the beginnign of Cinder and would make an excellent starting point, even if you’ve never tried the series of novels.

Lunar Chronicles #2.5 – The Queen’s Army

Published by: Tor, 2012
Read it on:
Wattpad
Ebook:
32 pages
My rating:
6,5/10
First sentence: They came at the end of the long night, when the manufacturing dome had not seen sunlight for almost two weeks.

queens armyThis is a sort of origin story about how Wolf came to be Wolf. Nothing that happens during his training is surprising, but it is quite well written and gives Wolf some much-needed background. His reluctance to be a mindless drone is there from the beginning and “The Queen’s Army” does have a few great moments that hint at Wolf’s fraught relationship with his brother. Scarlet being the weakest of the Lunar Chronicles, catching a glimpse of Wolf’s training, of those first days after the genetic manipulation, made me think that this should have been in the novel rather than a separate short story.

Lunar Chronicles #3.1 – Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky

Published by: Feiwel & Friends , 2014
Ebook:
42 pages
My rating:
6,5/10
First sentence: Carswell dunked the comb beneath the faucet and slicked it through his hair, tidying the back so it was neat and pristine, and the front spiked up just right.

carswells guideOh, Carswell! Since I’ve just read Cress, I knew what this story would be about from the start. I found it a bit disappointing that Meyer chose to tell a Carswell story whose plot and ending we already know. Thorne has gotten into enough trouble to pick and choose from and I would have liked to see more of his shenanigans. But okay, the story that was already talked about in Cress is here in its entirety. The charming parts are the ones when Carswell thinks about what he wants from life – a ship. A sturdy, useful ship that he can captain, without it having to be flashy or expensive. He pursues this goal by cheating his school mates out of their money, winning some of it fairly, and generally being Carswell. What can I say, there isn’t a lot of meat to the tale, but I’m a sucker for that arrogant little jerk so I had fun reading this.

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Marissa Meyer – Cress

This last energy burst before the year ends, the final motivation to catch up on some challenges, finish my Goodreads reading goal, and generally get mount TBR to a more manageable size (because Christmas will invariably bring new books) has led me to one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles have really improved, but I still know I like these books way more than I should…

cressCRESS
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2014
Ebook: 550 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #3
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Her satellite made one full orbit around planet Earth every sixteen hours.

In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.
Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who’s only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.
When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

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Cress is the Lunar Chronicles equivalent of Rapunzel, although I must start by commending Marissa Meyer for doing the one thing that I always yearn for in any version of Rapunzel – cut that damn hair off!!! I recently went from very long to quite short hair, myself, and I can only echo Cress’ relief (both literally and metaphorically) at saying bye-bye to her long mane.

But Cress’ hair isn’t her biggest problem. She lives on a satellite with only a computer program version of her younger self for company. Yes, she has access to the internet and yes, her mistress visits her regularly to bring food. But Cress is essentially a shut-in who only gets to see the world through TV screens. She longs to set foot on Earth one day, and she also longs for an adventurous romance with her personal hero, Carswell Thorne..

Now, I don’t know if I mentioned it in my review of Scarlet, but Thorne has been totally stealing everyone’s show since he joined Cinder. As fairy tale princes go, count me in for that one. He’s arrogant, and vain, and mercenary, and sarcastic. He is also secretly kind, pretends his heroics are purely selfish acts when they aren’t (at least not always), and he lives through one of the worst nightmares I can imagine, still keeping up a smile because others need him to be strong. You see how I’m rambling here? Do you see it? This is what Marissa Meyer does really well. As silly as some of her plots may be, as flat or one-dimensional certain characers are, she still somehow manages to get you so into the story that you don’t mind. You just want these people to accomplish their mission and then finally kiss and be happy together.

Cress is a departure from the two previous books, in that the author now has to juggle a whole cast of main characters, rather than focusing on one (Cinder in Cinder) or two (Cinder and Scarlet in Scarlet). Now we jump between the three heroines as well as the side characters. And that’s a great thing, if you ask me. Because the characters are all rather flat, switching between their points of view gives the story a bit of variety. They also improved a lot as character depth goes. This is not high literature (whatever that means) but there are glimpses of variety in Cress’ and Thorne’s and Wolf’s character.

cress swedish coverDespite my swooning over Carswell Thorne, I can still recognise him for the tropey character he is. I’m even more surprised, however, by Cinder’s development. She is unrecognisable from the person she was in her own book. Scarlet, whose story was the weakest so far, sadly gets very little to say or do throughout the story – and when the plot finally does focus on her a little, she is a victim, thrown around between people more powerful than her. Scarlet might as well be an object for all the stuff she does…

As for plot, my main gripe with Scarlet, I have no complaints here. Cress is a fast-moving, fun joyride of a novel, with plenty of life-threatening situations to throw our heroes into. Some sequences were put in pretty much only for the purpose of adding that Rapunzel-flair, but even though the chapters in question could be cut without harming the main story arc, I am still quite happy they are there. We are still building up to the big finale but Cress can stand on its own two legs as a book. It is by far my favorite instalment in the Lunar Chronicles and I hope the increased quality will continue in Winter.

Lastly, I need to mention the romance. Every volume has one and every time it’s obvious who will end up with whom. Exceeeeept, I’m not entirely sure anymore. There are sparks flying between characters where I didn’t expect it. I have no idea whether that’s intentional or not. But the main romance, between Cress and Carswell, was also an improvement to previous ones. Cress is in love with Thorne before she even meets him but his affection builds more slowly – to the point where we’re not even sure he is in love with her. But take it from me: There is a kiss in this book and it is so up my alley I may have squeed a little when it happened…

Now I believe that was enough swooning and more than enough mentions of Carswell Thorne. Winter is waiting on my shelf and, unlike the other books in the series, I will not wait long to read it.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Actually very good!

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Second opinions:

 

Fairy Tale Retelling: Marissa Meyer – Scarlet

It’s been a few years since I read Cinder – the fact that I’ve waited so long to continue the series speaks volumes. While Meyer’s Cinderella retelling was fun and added an interesting twist (Cyborg Cinderella!), the writing was lacking on many levels. But I hate having unread series lying around and I knew this would be a quick read. Scarlet was pretty much exactly what I expected. Not great, not terrible. A kind of guilty pleasure.

scarletSCARLET
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel and Friends, 2013
Ebook: 452 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
My rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: Scarlet was descending toward the alley behind the Rieux Tavern when her portscreen chimed from the passenger seat, followed by an automated voice: “Comm received for Mademoiselle Benoit from the Toulouse Law Enforcement Department of Missing Persons.”

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

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Scarlet lives on a small farm in the French village of Rieux. When her grandmother disappears and the police do nothing, Scarlet wants to take matters into her own hands. How lucky that the dark and mysterious stranger who just stumbled into town is connected to grand-mère’s dissapearance… Meanwhile, Cinder escapes from prison, dragging along the flamboyant Captain Thorne, on her way to find out more about herself and her past.

The plot in the second Lunar Chronicle book is thin, to say the least, but it does offer a few scenes that make it a worthwhile read. Cinder’s escape from prison and the introduction of Captain Thorne were among my favorite parts of the book. Their bantering and bickering even made me giggle a few times. Scarlet’s plotline, on the other hand, takes ages to get going and ends up as predictable as the big twist in the first book. Of course, a Red Riding Hood retelling has to have the girl fall in love with the wolf. No surprise there. And, if I’m completely honest, the romantic scenes were among the better ones of the entire book. Marissa Meyer managed to create moments of tension while completely adhering to the strange rule of YA romance that people who have known each other for less than a day are already utterly in love. To the point where they’d give up their life for the other person… [insert gigantic eye roll here]

Once the story did kick off though, there were other mysteries to be explored. If you have a character called Wolf who is prone to violence, it’s not very hard to guess what exactly he might be. This is where things are changed up a bit, making for a more interesting story than, say, regular werewolves. A bit more interesting, not anything mind-blowing. Alternating between Cinder, Scarlet, Emperor Kai, and – just once – Queen Levana, it’s easy to keep reading despite the many problems the novel has. It may be very readable, but it is also clearly just a prelude for bigger things to come. Very little of consequence happens during the course of this story, but it does set things up neatly for the next book. Characters are put into positions and put together with other characters in order to make for a (hopefully) better story in book three.

The novel’s biggest flaw is still the writing. Yes, it’s quick and simple and has nice (though unoriginal) dialogue. But hardly anything is learned or discovered without massive amounts of exposition and characters explaining everything to the protagonists. The characters’ actions don’t always make sense, but hey, if you can fall in eternal love with a person after only a day, I’m already questioning your judgement. So their overreactions and strange behavior make sense, I suppose, within the context of the story. Add to that the lack of depth in any and all of the characters and you’ve got a perfect example for a popcorn novel.

After ranting and giving you the reasons why this isn’t a very good book, why did I rate it as “okay”? Shouldn’t it get a “bad” rating? Well, because it is also a lot of fun. It’s fluffy and simple and doesn’t require a lot of thought on the reader’s part. It’s like a Hollywood action movie where you know from the start that the protagonists end up kissing, and of course some form of evil is defeated, leaving the big enemy alive for the sequel. I don’t have a lot to say about Scarlet because there is just so little substance to it, but I can say that if you’re home with the flu and your head is having a hard time concentrating, this might just be the right series for you. Switch off the brain, switch on the movie screen inside your head, and off you go into a world of cyborgs and girls with red hoodies and brooding dark men with hearts of gold.

So did I like it? Yeah, knowing I really shouldn’t, I kind of did. Not enough to read the next book immediately, not even enough to read it this year. But I’m sure the days will come again when I just don’t want to concentrate too hard or think very much for fear of missing a plot point, when a silly, fluffy romance on a spaceship is all I want. And then I’ll be ready with a copy of Cress.

RATING: 5,5/10  –  Okay

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The Lunar Chronicles:

  1. Cinder
  2. Scarlet
  3. Cress
  4. Winterlunar chronicles

Marissa Meyer – Cinder

This was a surprise. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, this strong-minded little book, decided to pick me up, sweep me off my feet and provide me with reading pleasure non-stop. So people do still write good YA fantasy books. I do have some reservations about certain aspects but overall this was an enjoyable read.

CINDER
by Marissa Meyer

published: Feiwel & Friends, 2012
ISBN: 1466800119
pages: 387
copy: ebook
series: The Lunar Chronicles #1

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: The screw through cinder’s ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle.

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.

I’m torn. On the one hand, this book was a fast-paced, fun read that exceeded my expectations by far. On the other hand, I am really, really pissed that the big revelation at the end is not only blatantly obvious but that it’s obvious from a very early moment on. I think it was on page 38 or so that I rolled my eyes and thought: “Oh, how very well concealed this “hint” is. I’m sure Cinder has nothing to do with that little aside about a certain person who died but whose body was never found”. Anybody with the attention span of a butterfly will know what I mean but – for the sake of those who maybe didn’t read that carefully and missed it – I won’t spoil it here. It did ruin the book for me, though.

Now that I’ve got that off my back, let me say that this story starts out with some great ideas that mix surprisingly well. A cyborg heroine who is also a mechanic, what’s not to love? And the author isn’t cheap. That is not all she offers. There is also people living on the moon, a pandemic plaguing the whole planet Earth and no cure in sight, and androids all over the place. Oh yes, there also happens to be a handsome and charming prince who invites Cinder to the ball…
Towards the middle, the author loses herself a little and the plot drifts. This middle bit could have used some editing as it didn’t further the plot very much. It does pick up again in the last third and the book is fast-paced throughout. I would even go so far as to call it very hard to put down.

My biggest problem with the plot was probably this obivous revelation I’ve mentioned. It is obvious to the reader, it is even obvious to some of the characters. Only our poor, self-conscious heroine refuses to see it until the information is served on a silver platter. For a girl who otherwise seems smart and quick, that is just really, really dumb and cost her many a sympathy point. It’s really sad when you have a potentially kick-ass heroine who keeps making bad choices. The prince drops off a faulty android which contains some vital information and Cinder decides it’s more important to build a car for herself than to fix that android. She trusts people far too easily but keeps secrets from the prince, who – if not the brightest bulb on the christmas tree – is at his worst a confused young man with a good heart.

Most of the characters are kept vague, the stepsister and stepmother are appropriately evil and self-obsessed, the prince charming and incredibly bland. There wasn’t much of a love story, which suited me just fine. If I can’t fall in love with a character, I don’t really see why the protagonist should. And other than Cinder, nobody seems to be a three-dimensional, believable person. That’s okay, though, as this is sort of a fairy tale, and I for my part, can forgive it.

While there are some great ideas in this book, many of them remain sadly unexplored. The plot takes place in New Beijing, a setting that was so little realised that it could have been any other place – I didn’t feel that Chinese touch at all. In fact, the way people talked and behaved, the decriptions of the city, reminded me very much of your generic western setting. Except for the palace which is built like ancient Chinese palaces, there is nothing to set this place apart.

The same goes for Cinder being a cyborg. Apart from having a mechanical foot and hand, she also has some pretty awesome gimmicks. A retina overlay informs her when somebody is lying, downloads the latest news from the net and we learn that a large part of her internal organs are also wired. I loved this idea and the possibilities it offers. However, we see too little of those, at least for my taste.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read with only a few hints at the original Cinderella tale, most of which were taking with a grain of salt. Cinder does not care if she has a pretty dress to wear and doesn’t even want to go to the ball. She does have a loathsome stepmother, though, and I particularly liked the idea of the lost “glass slipper”. I will be reading the second book in the Lunar Chronicles and as YA books go, this is one of the better ones. But I wasn’t overwhelmed and hope we get a second volume that is both better than this book and doesn’t end with such a cliffhanger.

Marissa Meyer
photo credit: Kali Raisl

THE GOOD: Great ideas and a fresh take on Cinderella. A fast-paced, fun read.
THE BAD: Oblivious main character, world-building was lacking, I would have liked more depth overall.
THE VERDICT: I would recommend this book for fans of  dystopian YA novels and fairy tales alike. It’s fun, it’s quick, and it’s got a cyborg Cinderella!

RATING: 6/10  Quite good read

Check out the author’s homepage– it’s full of extras, book trailers, recommended reading, art and other goodies. Also, there is a prequel to Cinder you can read for free on Tor.com.

The Lunar Chronicles:

  1. Cinder
  2. Scarlet
  3. Cress
  4. Winter

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