Jan 14, 2015

Cinder Breakdown: Welcome to The Lunar Chronicles - I Think You'll Like It Here

So another Wednesday comes and goes, and you know what that means, don’t you? It’s time for another book breakdown!

For the next four weeks we’ll be doing the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. “Why four weeks?” you ask. “Didn’t you do all of the Divergent series in one post?” Valid point, valid point. And because of your point’s validity, I offer the following explanations. First, the Lunar Chronicle series is not finished yet, so we cannot sum up the overall feel/effectiveness of the series like we could with the very-much-finished Divergent series. Second, taking the series book by book will allow us to give a much more in depth analysis, looking at author-y things such as use of conflict and story arcs instead of mostly summarizing. And third, this series is just so awesome that I could not get permission to do it unless I agreed to share it with some of my fellow bloggers.

But mostly it was the third one.

WARNING: This post will contain spoilers! Proceed with caution. You have officially been warned.

Mixing It Up: If you’ve ever heard of the Lunar Chronicles before, you’re probably aware that they’re loosely based off of classic fairy tales (Cinderella for Cinder, Little Red Riding Hood for Scarlet, Rapunzel for Cress, and Snow White for Winter). I use “loosely” for a reason. While the books do share many of the most important elements from the fairytales, knowledge of the classic tales will in no way help you guess the plot. Why? Well because if there’s one thing that Meyer does with this series, it’s mix it up. Cinderella’s a mild mannered household servant whose best friend is bird/mouse? Well, meet Cinder, the sarcastic cyborg who’s living in New Beijing as a mechanic, struggling to get enough money to escape the ungrateful care of her stepmother along with her best friend the eccentric andriod, Iko. I absolutely loved these changes. While I knew the tale of Cinderella (what self respecting Disney fanatic doesn’t?) and got a thrill out of every little tidbit (the orange car, for example, that becomes her “pumpkin” on the way to the ball) they would in no way allow me to guess the plot. And I’m a really good plot guesser, so that’s a big deal for me. Also, the differentness of the plot, and particularly the setting, was just plain old refreshing.

Which brings us to point number two of mixing it up - the setting.

The Setting: The Lunar Chronicles is set 100 years after World War Four and, while it’s not entirely clear as to when that is, it’s obviously pretty far in the future because the world is different. I loved learning about all the changes that Earth has experienced, and I especially loved the fact that all the characters take them for granted. Discovering how Earth got from 2014 A.D. to 140 T.E. almost becomes a mini-quest, an interesting challenge to the reader. It was super cool learning about things like androids, hovers, ID chips, portscreens, D-COMM chips, and cyborgs, and trying to discover their places in society. As well as learning about the political environment of the time. First off, may I say that I am totally jealous of the kids in the Third Era? They only have six countries to memorize! Six! Do you have any idea how many time I’ve had to memorize the countries of Europe? And I still don’t remember them! Ugh. But random school related rant aside, the political shuffle was extremely interesting. I’m still a little confused as to how several fully functional monarchies ended up in what’s most likely considered an enlightened age, but whatever, it was necessary for the plot (Cinderella and President Charming just does not have the same ring to it) and I’m willing to overlook that. Especially in light of the world’s coolest (and possibly freakiest) new country, Luna.

Luna: Luna is the country/monarchy/overgrown colony on the moon. Way back when (I’m not quite sure when, they were vague) a colony of people from earth moved up onto the moon (again, I have no idea how that worked but apparently it did) and started their own civilization there. Eventually, they morphed into a new-ish kind of human with the power to control bioelectricity (which I believe can be defined as the stuff that makes people do things), giving them the power to manipulate, among other things, how other people see them, how they feel about them, and their actions. Of course, this ability leads to some pretty freaky rulers, landing the poor people of Third Era with Queen Levena, the psychotic, extremely powerful Lunar Queen who murdered her sister and niece in order to gain power, and mutilated her stepdaughter in order to preserve her beauty. She, ladies and gentlemen, is a whack. But she’s an interesting whack. I absolutely, positively hate her. And that makes all the difference for me. You need a villain that you hate, that you just can’t wait to be taken down. And that’s definitely what I got during Cinder (I’ve got more to say about her but it doesn’t happen in this book - check back with me in two weeks when I do Cress).

The Characters: Talking about Levena made me think about all the other characters, and really, can I just say well done to Marissa? Because I think they were spot on. Each character is so unique, and so perfect for their role. Let’s start with Cinder. First off, can I just say that I really enjoyed learning about her? I feel like her character, while simple in theory, is actually very complex and I was definitely thrown by a few of her actions. Overall though, I would just have to say that I really admire her. She has had to deal with so much hate, so much ridicule, whether it be from Adri or Pearl or even the general community, and yet she’s still going strong. She still cares and she’s still determined. And despite all the horrible things that happen to her (in just the first book for crying out loud) she still manages to be a proactive, admirable character (which, quite frankly, is hard to maintain) and it makes her anguish over her identity, her questioning over her worth, all that much more powerful. She goes through some really rough stuff but she doesn’t let that stop her. She keeps going, possessing a determination that makes her a great main character. As an added bonus - she’s super sarcastic. Which makes her dialog so much fun (especially when it involves Dr. Erland or, later, Thorne).

Next there’s Iko. Oh Iko, is there anything better than a hyper, sarcastic robot? I absolutely love her. She is so, so funny! I just about died when Adri dissembled her (no more funny comments! Noo!). Her spontaneity and lightheartedness are a great foil to Cinder’s usual glower, and they make fantastic team.

And then, of course, there’s Kai. Personally, I think he’s a wonderful character. A great balance of polite, proactive, and just downright sweet. He does have an edgy side that I loved seeing and, though it doesn’t come out much, I think that little bit of resistance is absolutely vital to his character. It proves that, despite his manners and gentle nature, he’s not a pushover and his tendency to acquiesce is not a result of weakness, but instead a sign of how much he truly cares for his country and how much he’s willing to sacrifice for it.

And he totally loves Cinder. Which makes him like 150% more awesome.

The Big Reveal: Honestly, I don’t know about you guys, but I totally called this one. I knew about the big reveal back... shoot, I think as soon as Dr. Erland told her she was a Lunar (maybe the second time, after he said she wasn’t a shell, but it was early either way). I don’t know if that’s because I’m naturally good at guessing plots (I’ve got a reputation for reasoning them out once I hit the halfway point) or because it was pretty obvious. Personally, I think it was just because it was pretty obvious. She’s a Lunar. She’s an orphan. She’s has a questionable background. You have all this hype about Levana, all these rumors about Selene. The series is called The Lunar Chronicles. I mean, uh duh! Cinder was so her. No brainer. Still, despite it’s obviousness, I was very pleased with the big reveal. I’m a sucker for inner power, predestined, false identity type plots (*cough* Incarceron, Percy Jackson, Prophecy of the Stones *cough cough*) and it’s really hard to do one of those without tipping your reader off about it really early. Plus, even though I knew Cinder’s identity (and therefore much of the book’s plot) beforehand, I had absolutely no idea what the next book was going to be about. And, in case you don’t know me yet, that made me very excited.

It also meant that I read the next book in a day and a half and was extremely unproductive while doing so.

Conflict: This book is really a lesson in conflict. Despite being the slowest paced of the series, it never feels that way. Why? Well, several reasons. One is the pure originality of the series - the futuristic setting, and the challenge understanding it presents to the reader. Another is the fairy tale - everyone knows the Cinderella story and that knowledge, even when almost every detail has been altered, creates a strong sense of dramatic irony that propels you forward. You know that something’s going to go down between Cinder and Adri, you know that, despite her best efforts to avoid it, Cinder is going to get her butt to that ball, you know that, despite all her hopes otherwise, there is going to be some epic confrontation there involving one Mr. Prince Charming (sorry, Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth) and one Ms. Evil Queen Psycho (no addition needed).

But mostly, the reason why this novel never feels slow paced, why I couldn’t put the stupid thing down, is because of the constant conflict. It’s everywhere. Internal conflict is rife throughout the story, manifesting itself in Cinder’s conflicted feelings about her escape, about her own part in Peony’s death, about the lies that she tells Kai, about her identity, and about her own humanity. It eats her up and it eats us up. But, and this is critical here, Meyer doesn’t let Cinder sit and wallow in her self pity. No, she throws external conflict after external conflict at her, hitting her with the plague, her stepsister’s death, her stepmother’s hate, her own commitment to the research facility, her precarious grip on escape, the arrival of Levena, the loss of Iko - the list goes on and on and on. I could chart out the whole book, match it up to one of the classic plot diagrams for measuring conflict, and rave and rave about how wonderfully Meyer does this but honestly, that would be a whole ‘nother post and I’m certain you’re quite sick of listening to me ramble already. But I will challenge you, next time you read the book, to chart it out in your head. Note how every time that Cinder feels comfortable, every time she thinks she has it under control, something new pops up. Trust me - it’s worth looking at.

Well, I think that’s about it for Cinder. Like I said, I could keep going forever, but this is long enough as it is and I’m pretty sure 99% of it is (hopefully entertaining) ramble. Still, I hope you enjoyed looking at book one of one of my favorite series and please, stay tuned because next week my fellow blogger, and fellow Lunar Chronicles fan, Katheline will be bringing you Scarlet. And trust me, you want to be here for that.

Happy reading, writing, and living. See y’all soon.

- Ashton

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