Analysing Cinder by Marissa Meyer

If you’ve been around for a while, you’ll probably have learned by now that I procrastinate reading books that I should have read a long time ago.

Obviously, Cinder has been on my radar for a while. I’ve always loved fairytale retellings, especially when people go crazy with the genre. Cinderella in a futuristic sci-fi setting sounded awesome to me. And yet, here I am in the Year of Our Lord 2022, only just now reading this book.

I know, I know…

So, what makes this book so popular? Is it truly worthy of the hype? How does it look from a writing perspective?

That’s what I set out to discover, and here are my findings. Alert: spoilers ahead! (Granted, they’re ten-year-old spoilers, but still…) Note that I haven’t read the other books in the series yet, so my views are limited to Cinder alone.

If you want the short version, my overall opinion on the book is pretty neutral. It was certainly entertaining on the surface, but when I looked deeper, some key aspects of the book fell apart. Here’s the summary:

Good Things

Entertaining

There’s no doubt that Cinder is thoroughly entertaining. It’s never dull for a moment and it keeps you flipping page after page. (I actually turned the last page eagerly, expecting to see another chapter waiting, but more on that later.) The YA genre, particularly, is very good at this; usually, the authors accomplish this effect by using easy-to-read language, engaging sentences (show vs. tell), constant action, and characters you can relate to. Cinder is no exception. I finished it in a couple days, which usually doesn’t happen anymore because of my busy schedule.

Unique Setting

Truly, I think this is the main reason that Cinder became so popular. Without the interesting setting – a futuristic Earth past World War IV struggling against a worldwide plague while the people inhabiting the moon are preparing for war – I really don’t think the book would have made such a splash.

But come on. Cinderella as a cyborg?! How cool is that? It makes you instantly pick up the book just because of the cover.

Moreover, the introduction of the setting was one of the things that Meyer did best in the novel. From the very first page, I got a sense of the market, the city, the general disposition of the populace. I was there in New Beijing, feeling like I knew it well even though I still had a lot to learn about the history of the world. This was all because of the way Cinder immediately interacted with the world around her from the very beginning of the book.

Immersing the reader in the setting instantly is something that’s very difficult to do, especially with a very unique setting like this, so I was really impressed by what Meyer did here.

Character Voice

Another hallmark of YA, character voice is oh so important. The reader learns so much about Cinder just from her voice alone, which is exactly the point, even though the POV is third person. It’s like using show vs. tell to its fullest potential. We don’t need to be told about Cinder’s personality because we can hear it in the way she tells the story and interacts with other characters. It also makes the book uniquely entertaining; you won’t find another book narrated by Cinder, right? (Putting the sequel books aside, of course.)

Integrating Fairytale Aspects

Though I wouldn’t say that Cinder follows the traditional Cinderella fairytale word for word, it does integrate the most important elements. I liked how the book was separated into sections, each one with a quote from the original fairytale to introduce the next part of the book. Yet, Meyer wasn’t afraid to stray from the fairytale, either. She definitely made it her own.

But I mean, as long as you have the glass slipper part, you’re golden, right?

Not-So-Good Things

Missing Theme?

Oddly enough, I couldn’t nail down a solid main theme in Cinder, and a theme is, arguably, the most critical part of a story. The theme should be so clearly stated (but in a subtle way – oh the paradoxes!) that there’s absolutely no question about what the main character – and so the reader, too – has learned. The lack of an obvious theme leaves you with a sense of incompleteness, and I definitely felt that from this book. (Note that there were lots of minor themes present in the book, but my trouble was in picking out one main theme, which should be the main takeaway of the story.)

The two closest themes I could get were the importance of self-confidence/acceptance and caution against prejudice/stereotyping. The reason why I couldn’t pin either of them down was that Cinder didn’t fully complete a journey with either of these things.

The strongest case is for the first one. After all, the climax involves Cinder taking hold of her true identity and admitting it to the world…but really, it’s only part of her identity. While Cinder admits she’s Lunar, it’s an accident that everyone discovers she’s a cyborg, too. And her identity as a cyborg is certainly what she’s struggled with most throughout this book and her whole life. So, you see how this theme kind of falls apart. The book doesn’t end with Cinder fully accepting herself, cyborg and all (especially because in the last chapter, she gets yet another truth dumped onto her identity that she doesn’t come to terms with or really even believe!), so if this is the main theme, it’s not quite there.

The second possible theme, prejudice/stereotyping, seems more like a minor theme. Though Cinder is kind of forced to let go of her prejudices against Lunars, since she finds out she is one, there’s never an astounding revelation where Cinder faces her prejudices or even admits that she has them. We never see if Prince Kai has let go of his prejudices either. I can see how prejudice, injustice, and stereotyping are driving forces of the book, and perhaps the overarching theme will complete itself later on in the series, but these seem to be more like minor things. Once again, Cinder doesn’t really complete a journey here.

Maybe I’m totally wrong about this (if so, let me know!), but I struggled to find a main theme that represented Cinder’s journey throughout the book.

Lack of Breathing Room

I noticed that when things happened to Cinder in the book, a lot of times she’d react immediately, but there were no lasting effects. And then another thing would happen. And another. And another…

Maybe things just happened too quickly. Maybe the book should have been longer. Whatever it is, I feel like the whole book was just a bunch of bad things happening to Cinder one right after the other, but they didn’t stack on top of each other. It was almost like she’d gotten over the previous bad thing (even though it should have rocked her entire world) before moving on to the next one.

The biggest example of this, in my opinion, was the death of Peony, which I thought was completely pointless. Some authors (not necessarily Meyer) like to throw around character deaths for emotional impact, but the truth is that deaths have to impact the story, otherwise they’re just cheap. (Can you guys tell this is a pet peeve? Because it’s a pet peeve.) Did Peony’s death drive Cinder into some kind of critical action in the story? No. Did it impact the way she behaved going forward? No. I can guess that Peony’s ID chip will have some significance later, but if we’re looking at Cinder alone, that’s not a good enough reason for her to die.

In addition, the reader didn’t get to know Peony enough as a character or see her and Cinder interact enough for the part where she contracts the plague to really be impactful. Then, for the majority of the rest of the book, Cinder rarely thinks about her – even after she dies! There’s an immediate violent reaction, and then nothing.

Overall, my point is that I think Cinder needed some more room to breathe, to let the main character deal with what was happening to her. And Peony shouldn’t have died. (For the record, I wasn’t even attached to her – see the previous paragraph – but it just bugs me when characters die for no reason.)

Writing for the Series, Not the Book

Both of the factors above contributed to the fact that the book didn’t really feel complete. Now, that’s not necessarily bad, as it’s part of a series. Obviously, it had to leave some things hanging so that readers would want to continue on to the next book. But in this case, it left Cinder as a story in itself incomplete. After finishing the book, before I’d even gone back and analysed what I’d just read, I had that gut feeling you get as a reader when you’re missing something. I knew that something wasn’t quite right. And then when I went back over everything and looked at it through a critical storytelling lens, I realised exactly why.

I think that Cinder was written as the first book in a series, not its own book.

In other words, I think that Cinder was written to function as an introduction to the story world for the rest of the series – which obviously isn’t inherently bad, or else every first book in a series would be awful. The issue is that I think this was the main goal of the book, whether it was a conscious decision or not. It wasn’t so much about making Cinder a complete story as much as setting up the following books. And it’s a shame, because with a solid theme and some more breathing room in the book, I think it really could have been exceptional. This isn’t to bash Marissa Meyer, either – writing a great series is exceptionally hard, and getting the first book right is one of the most difficult parts! And hey, this is just my opinion; I’m sure there are people out there who love Cinder wholeheartedly! I’ve heard the consensus is that the books keep getting better as you go on in the Lunar Chronicles, so I will read the next book in the series when I get a chance.

So, there you have it, my honest opinion of Cinder, ten years late. As I said earlier, I did truly enjoy it! But my lack of satisfaction at the end of the book led me to discover that there are some bigger issues lurking beneath the pages – in my opinion, at least.

What do you think? Have you read the book? Have you ever found similar issues within a different book? Let me know in the comments!

Happy reading!
-E.J.


Want to learn more about how to write a great story? Subscribe to my monthly newsletter to get a FREE storytelling guidebook right off the bat, plus insider looks into my upcoming works, more writing tips, book recs, and much more!

Photo by Tory Bishop on Unsplash

One-Time
Monthly

Your donations help me to continue publishing books and blog posts!

Make a monthly donation

Choose a donation amount

$1.00
$3.00
$5.00
$5.00
$15.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Why do I ask for donations? This money all goes towards helping me pay for marketing, book services (editing, cover art, etc.), learning opportunities, and writing-related subscriptions that I have to purchase myself due to being an indie author and a blogger who posts tons of resources and stories for free. Every dollar counts! Thank you so much, and God bless you. ♥️ E.J.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthly

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s