is a book with a great concept but poor execution. There is so much potential here-- cyborgs, fairytale retelling, political intrigue-- but it is wasted on all counts. Concepts aside, the overall storyline is boring and predictable, so simplistically written that I feel like this is more of a children's book than a teen novel, and sorely lacking in depth.
The East Asian nations have merged as one large Eastern Commonwealth, ruled by a royal family. Cinder is a cyborg living with her adopted family in the capital city New Beijing and working as a mechanic. Cyborgs are treated with suspicion and fear, and generally considered second-class citizens by humankind. When a royal visitor comes seeking her expertise at her mechanic's booth, Cinder becomes entangled in a conspiracy and a looming war involving the mysterious Lunar nation, whose people have supernatural abilities.
Aside from some discrimination towards cyborgs, there isn't any real exploration of exactly what an existence as a cyborg entails. Cinder is 32% cyborg, has a metal hand and foot, an enhanced brain and a silicon heart. Can she still be considered human? What about her brain chemistry, which regulates emotions? Does she feel things differently than other humans? Can she even feel or is it programmed into her? What about artificial intelligence? The cyborg concept was poorly used, seeming more like an excuse to make Cinder an outcast, much in the vein of other popular YA paranormal/dystopian fiction, except that rather being a loner due to having special powers, Cinder is an enhanced human (which, in a way, is kind of like having special powers). Sure, her enhanced brain with its data-processing does come in handy quite a number of times, but Cinder being a cyborg doesn't add any real depth to her character or the book overall.
Furthermore, it makes no sense that there would be so much discrimination towards cyborgs that even higher ups would not want to deal with them. Wouldn't the royal family be interested in cyborgs for reasons of national security? They should be pouring money into cyborg research and development in order to bring up a cyborg army to defend themselves, especially at a time when Earth has such a precarious relationship to the Lunars with their supernatural powers.
As a fairytale retelling, the book didn't really add anything new or put a new twist onto the Cinderella storyline aside from placing it in a sci-fi world. That might be acceptable if the worldbuilding wasn't shoddy at best. There are throwaway mentions of a Fourth World War that changed the Earth, entire continents as conglomerate supercountries formed from their separate nations, and various new technologies such as the many robots running around working for humans. However, nothing was really developed or explained, and even the physical/visual descriptions of the world were sparse (we aren't even given a description of what the main character looks like). Chinese culture is used only shallowly to give life to New Beijing; there are mentions of dumplings, of pagodas, and many usages of Chinese honorifics, but these are only the most superficial aspects of the culture. There were also mentions of geishas and kimonos, which are some of the most obvious and stereotypical aspects of Japanese culture. In other words, Asian culture was only used as a gimmick without any true understanding of them, and made me think of these posters
that criticize racist and insensitive portrayals of non-Caucasion cultures.
The political aspects of this book could have been really interesting but were instead boring and juvenile. Who ever heard of politicians openly threatening each other the way Prince Kai and Queen Levana do? Kai was completely immature in all of his interactions with the Lunar Queen; no matter how much you can't stand the other person, a good politician should still know to be diplomatic! And saying he is young doesn't give him an excuse-- you'd think that someone who'd grown up around politicians and diplomats would know how to behave in such situations. Wouldn't his father, the Emperor, have taught him a bit about diplomacy, seeing that Kai is the only heir to the Eastern Commonwealth? Also, why was Kai so intent on chasing after a girl he barely knew when there were all sorts of major problems going on in his country that need to be urgently dealt with? I doubt that he'd have so much time on his hands, what with trying to find a cure for a plague sweeping his country and defending from Lunar invaders and all.
As for the plot itself, it was completely and utterly predictable. This is a very typical write-by-numbers YA book-- outcast girl meets boy, outcast girl discovers her secret powers/deep dark secret/evil conspiracy (usually this information is given to them by some other, older, minor character, Dr Erland in this case), girl realizes boy is in danger, girl saves boy by sacrificing herself, boy finds some reason they can't be together, end with a cliffhanger to ensure you will buy the next book in the series. (Sometimes I think I should really stop reading YA but I keep finding myself pulled in by the hype.. sigh.)
All in all, Cinder
wasn't the worst read ever, and will definitely appeal to those who like easy-to-read, fast-paced stories that require little brainpower. There are some intriguing concepts here but they all feel like gimmicks and are never explored enough for the story to have any modicum of depth. If you are looking for thought-provoking science fiction, interesting twists on fairytale retellings, realistic and well-developed characters or good writing, skip this book. You're not going to find any of those things here. However, if you like half-baked young adult romances with wooden characters and a predictable plot, then this book might be for you.