27 February 2018
I love fairy tale adaptations, whether they're just fleshing out the original story (Robin McKinley's "Beauty") or spinning the bare concept off in a totally different direction (the anime "Pretear").
And Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series is actually quite clever in its dystopian/futuristic-steampunk reimagining of the most famous fairy tales, in particular those of Cinderella, Snow White, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel. While they cleave to the barest storyline of the fairy tale, Meyer weaves in plenty of original plotting that gives the books their own distinct flavors -- conspiracies, brewing warfare, a plague and secret identities. In short, she allows the epic story to stand on its own two feet... or rather, one foot of its own and one robot foot.
Linh "Cinder" is a cyborg, a second-class citizen in the plague-riddled city of New Beijing, who toils away as a mechanic for her cruel stepmother Adri. But her life changes when crown prince Kai secretly hires her to repair an old robot for him, even as New Beijing prepares for the arrival of the cruel, powerful Lunar queen Levana. As Kai tries to find a way to avoid marrying Levana to avert a war, Cinder discovers that she is immune to the terrible plague sweeping Asia -- and begins to figure out her long-forgotten past, and how important she may be to Earth's future.
When her grandmother goes missing, "Scarlet" Benoit finds that nobody (including the French police) is willing to actually look for her. Her only ally seems to be a savage but oddly naive street fighter named Wolf -- and he turns out to have a connection to the people who kidnapped Scarlet's grandmother. As she tries to dodge the brutal terrorists known as the Pack, Scarlet must figure out the terrible secret her grandmother has been keeping all these years... and whether she can really trust Wolf.
"Cress" Darnell is a Lunar shell, trapped on a remote satellite between Earth and Luna, where she has spent the last seven years alone. Her only visitor is the cruel thaumaturge Sybil, and her only comfort is her crush on the Earthen outlaw, Carswell Thorne. Then Thorne -- and his allies Scarlet and Cinder -- contact her and offer a rescue, but Sybil disrupts the plan and scatters the crew of the Rampion. Now Cress must not only save her wounded love, but take part in a war that the Earth may not be able to win.
Levana's stepdaughter "Winter" is lost in an icy web of hallucinations, due to being unwilling to use her Lunar gifts. The only one who shows her kindness is her old friend Jacin -- and when Jacin is commanded to kill her, he instead helps Winter escape her stepmother's wrath. With the help of Scarlet and Cress, Winter is able to join forces with Cinder and her friends -- only to be infected by a mutated form of the letumosis plague. Will she finally be able to revolt against her evil stepmother, now that the revolution is underway?
And many years before the events of the series, "Fairest" shows us how Levana evolved into the monstrous monarch who ruled Luna with an iron fist. A lonely girl tormented by her older sister and mocked by the court, Levana found herself in a position of power when her sadistic sister died. But her longing and power for love warped Levana as she pursued the only man she wanted, and the throne she believed would make her happy.
To be honest, "science fiction versions of fairy tales" sounds like a one-trick pony -- lesser authors would probably just stick a few sci-fi things onto the existing plot and let it otherwise play out the same way as the original fairy tale. But part of the appeal of the Lunar Chronicles is that Marissa Meyer only takes a few elements of the fairy tales in her story (Winter's apple, Cress' hair, Scarlet's grandmother, Cinder's "glass slipper" leg), and reweaves them into a new epic tale of her own creation.
And she comes up with a very strong futuristic world, exploring different continents that have been changed by future technology while still maintaining their distinct cultural flavor. Her prose is strong and swift, full of delicate detailwork (the hallucinations of ice and death that constantly haunt poor Winter) and the odd funny moment (Carswell's roguish antics, including his penchant for "borrowing" things). And she winds together the new story of each successive book neatly into the story of Cinder, adding new characters even as she expands the scope of the plot.
She also has a brilliant knack for writing well-developed, distinct characters -- obviously the downtrodden, increasingly confident Linh Cinder is the heroine of the overall story, but each following story features a new heroine (and a new love story) with the feisty, fiery Scarlet, the lonely and naive Cress, and the fragile scarred Winter. Each one has her own story, woven with Cinder's. And the love interests are no less interesting or varied, be it the responsible and intelligent Kai, the roguish outlaw Carswell, and particularly Wolf, a gentle, rather naive boy with a spookily bestial side. Even Levana is beautifully explored -- not because she's sympathetic, but because she's identifiable while still being increasingly loathsome.
The only flaw with this boxed set is the perplexing absence of the short-story collection "Stars Above." While this collection is not essential to understanding the rest of the series, it is a part of that series -- and it contains both backstory for the characters, and a capstone to the storyline.
Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series is a richly-imagined, well-developed sci-fi series that never lets its fairy tale roots keep it from telling Meyer's own epic, romantic, exciting story. Definitely one for those who like their fairy tales with a bit of revolution.