I was initially planning to review this series by Marissa Meyer in one post, but I haven’t had time to read lately, so I no longer have the massive backlog of posts scheduled and ready to go. Also I feel like each book has enough to discuss that it warrants its own post, so here goes:
Cinder is a cyborg living in Beijing in the 126th year of the Third Era. We don’t know how far in the future that is because there was a WWIII and a devastating WWIV, which reorganized the world into seven major powers: the Eastern Commonwealth, the American Republic, the African Union, the United Kingdom, the European Federation, and Luna.
The moon was colonized centuries (millennia?) ago and has since become its own country calling itself Luna. The people of Luna have been up there so long that they evolved and developed the ability to mentally control people. Some people on Luna are born without this ability and they are known as Shells. They are also immune to manipulation, making them a threat to Queen Levana, who keeps her people under control largely by manipulating them. She long ago ordered all Shells to be collected by the state so they can be eliminated as soon as it’s clear they don’t have “the Lunar gift.”
Because Lunars can make people believe whatever they want, most of them choose to look however they want to look by making the people around them believe they’re seeing whatever the Lunar wants them to see. This is known as a glamour, but mirrors and recording devices can only tell the truth, so Levana hates them. She forbids mirrors and wears a veil whenever she knows she’s going to be recorded. Also robots can’t be manipulated.
So! All that being said, Linh Cinder is a lowly, 17-year-old cyborg who works as a mechanic in New Beijing to earn money for her lazy adopted mother and sisters, who lost everything when the man who adopted Cinder died of letumosis, an incurable disease that has been plaguing Earth for the past several years. Fortunately for Lunars, they appear to be immune.
All Cinder knows is that her parents died when their shuttle crashed when she was 11 years old. She was with them, which is how she got her burns and lost her left leg and arm. That’s when she was adopted and brought to New Beijing by Linh Garan, only to have him die almost right away leave her with his horrible family. His wife, Linh Adri, blames Cinder for the fact that her husband contracted letumosis and died (like Cinder was somehow in control of that)?
But it’s not all bad. One of her sisters, Linh Peony, is nice and loves Cinder as much as Cinder loves her. There’s also a friendly household droid named Iko who loves celebrity gossip and pretty things and Cinder. She also helps Cinder when she can and Cinder gives her repairs as needed.
In addition to dealing with her horrible adopted family, Cinder has to deal with the stigmas surrounding cyborgs, which are viewed as being less than human. Most people are afraid of cyborgs because they’re stronger than humans, which is how Adri is able to make Cinder work to support them all day instead of going to school. As a cyborg, Cinder is considered her property.
Because cyborgs are considered to be less valuable than people, they’re the ones who get used as guinea pigs in the search for a letumosis antidote. Many of them end up volunteering (for which their family is compensated), but because they’re often considered property, rather than people, it’s not always their idea to volunteer. Cinder finds this out the hard way after Peony contracts letumosis and is quarantined. Adri blames Cinder, so she “volunteers” her for letumosis experimentation. It’s essentially a death sentence and they both know it.
Except, as it turns out, not so much.
Cinder is given a dose of letumosis to see how her body reacts before they give her their latest shot at an antidote, but her own immune system obliterates the virus almost immediately.
The doctor in charge of the research, Dr. Erland, is understandably excited by this finding and insists on doing a full scan of Cinder’s body, including her cyborg parts, to see if it reveals any clue as to how her body was able to fight off the disease on its own. That’s when they find out she’s Lunar.
Dr. Erland convinces Cinder to continue working with them so they can further their research (the kind of research where she doesn’t end up dead). She’ll be compensated accordingly and can live at home, just as long as she continues coming back to the royal palace for research. Cinder’s one condition is that the money go directly to her, rather than Adri.
So Cinder returns home, only to find that, in order to make ends meet without the money Cinder was bringing in for them, they had Iko broken down and sold for parts. Fortunately, they didn’t see any value in her personality chip, so Cinder takes it and vows to find another robot body for Iko.
Meanwhile, Prince Kai is grieving his father, who has just died of letumosis. At the same time, he has to learn how to become Emperor Kaito (and you thought you had problems as a teenager). Queen Levana is not making his job any easier. She wants to make a marriage alliance with Kai and be crowned empress of the Eastern Commonwealth, which would give her far too much power, so that thought understandably makes all the other Earthen leaders nervous. It also makes Kai sick because he can’t stand Levana.
But they can’t risk going to war with Luna. Even though it’s been more than a century since the end of WWIV, Earth is still too fragile to start a fight with Luna. Kai is backed into a corner with no way out.
To make matters worse, Levana reveals she has a letumosis antidote, but she won’t give it to Kai until after she’s been crowned empress. She gives him just enough to prove she’s serious, but not enough for his team to be able to replicate. With hundreds of people dying every day from letumosis, it’s an offer Kai can’t refuse and Levana knows it.
Dr. Erland gets the sample of the antidote to run tests on it and he gives Cinder just enough for one dose. She rushes to the quarantine to give it to Peony, but she’s too late. Peony dies in her arms and she ends up giving the antidote to a young boy from her neighborhood.
In the meantime, Kai has been trying to track down Selene, the lost princess of Luna. Selene was the daughter of Queen Channary, Levana’s older sister, who was Queen before Lavana probably had her killed so she could take her throne. Unfortunately, there was a fire in the nursery shortly after Levana took the throne. Levana’s stepdaughter, Winter, was badly burned but survived. Selene was not so lucky. All that was left of her was ash, leaving the situation ripe for Anastasia-type conspiracy theories claiming the princess is still alive. If it turned out to be true, Selene’s claim to the throne would trump Levana’s.
So Kai has been having his trusty droid, Nainci, secretly look into the matter and see if there’s any way Selene could possibly be alive, and if so, where she might be hiding. He’s so desperate to avoid marrying Levana he’s grasping at straws. But Nainci gets damaged somehow, so he asks around for the best mechanic in town and ends up at Cinder’s stall.
When she’s not working on Nainci or doing any other work, Cinder is putting up with Adri as well as she can and fixing up an orange, beat up old car (an “ancient” car, with wheels and everything!) so she can use it to run away and start a new life somewhere far away from New Beijing. Adri and her daughter are busy preparing to attend the big festival ball the palace will be hosting, so Cinder figures the night of the ball, when everyone is distracted, will be a perfect time to leave.
But, even after she’s removed the D-COMM chip that caused all the problems with Nainci, Cinder continues fiddling with the chip and that’s when she gets a message from a girl named Cress, claiming to be the one who built the spyware, but has since had a change of heart and decided to warn Kai that Levana is planning to kill him and take over all of Earth once they’re married. So Cinder hurriedly throws on Peony’s ball gown and a pair of beautiful silk gloves Kai gave her as a gift specifically for the occasion of the ball and rushes off to warn him.
Cinder and Kai have been flirting ever since he brought his droid to her to be fixed, but so far she’s managed to avoid revealing to him any of her cyborg parts (hence the gloves).
Due to several mishaps, Cinder ends up showing up to the ball ragged and filthy, but that’s the life of a mechanic and Kai is only more charmed.
But Levana will have no one standing between her and the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, so she tries to manipulate Cinder into shooting herself. But part of Cinder’s cyborg additions includes a computer chip in her brain that’s capable of overriding the queen’s Lunar gift. This trick kicks in at the last second and Cinder ends up shooting one of Levana’s guards instead.
In the ensuing scuffle, Cinder runs out the door, trips on the palace steps and loses her ill-fitting mechanical foot, which sends her sprawling across the stairs. In the confusion, Cinder accidentally uses her Lunar gift for the first time and throws up a glamour without even realizing she’s doing it. Between accidentally revealing her cyborg parts and her glamour, Cinder has just managed to reveal to the world that she is both cyborg and Lunar, which is pretty much the most terrifying thing any non-cyborg Earthen could think of. So it’s not hard for Levana to add a new demand to her list of requirements for her marriage to Kai: that the “traitor” Linh Cinder be arrested and executed.
So Cinder goes to jail with Kai thinking she was lying to him the whole time. Cinder’s only visitor is Dr. Erland, who, it turns out, is also Lunar. He has been refraining from using his Lunar gift while on Earth, which has been slowly driving him mad because that’s what happens to Lunars when they go for an extended period of time without using their gift.
Dr. Erland sneaks his way into Cinder’s cell by finally using his gift and convincing her guards that he had a royal pass when it was really just a piece of paper. Cinder asks how he managed to do that and he gives her a quick lesson before explaining that, after some testing, he has confirmed that she is, in fact, the missing princess Selene. She was smuggled to Earth after the fire that was supposed to have killed her. The pilot took care of her in the European Union while she was in a coma and they made sure she healed properly and fitted her out with her cyborg parts, including the chip in her brain so she could look up things she didn’t understand without making it super obvious that she didn’t know things that should have been obvious to an Earthen girl her age. The chip in her brain was also designed to keep her from using her Lunar gift without going crazy. Linh Garan knew who she was when he adopted her and vowed to keep her safe, but never told the rest of his family.
Aside from her name and history, Dr. Erland’s other gift to Cinder is a new cyborg hand with all sorts of bells and whistles, including a gun loaded with tranquilizers in one of her fingers and a flashlight in another.
To be continued…