Warning: I will be spoiling plot points from Cinder, the first book in the series, with reckless abandon.
When we last saw our fair cyborg Cinderella, she had been thrown in jail after crashing Emperor Kai’s fancy ball. She was there to warn him that evil Moon Queen Levana planned on murdering him when/if they wed as a first step to world domination. Then while she’s waiting to be executed, Cinder learns that she’s actually the long-lost Princess Selene, the niece that Levana tried to get rid of by SETTING HER ON FIRE. Just in case you didn’t think she was evil enough. Because Cinder is the true heir to the Lunar throne, Levana wants her dead STAT, so Cinder resolves to break out of prison.
In Scarlet (Feiwel and Friends 2013), the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder uses her newly discovered Jedi Mind Trick powers to break out of prison. She takes her fellow prisoner, Captain Carswell Thorne, with her because he has a ship and he just happens to be there. More on him later. So the two of them along with Cinder’s beloved android, Iko (who’s salvaged personality chip is deposited in an unconventional vessel), become the most wanted fugitives on the planet. Queen Levana is furious about Cinder’s escape and threatens to declare war on Earth. Cinder is supposed to meet up with fellow Lunar refugee, Dr. Erland, in Africa, but she’s sick of having to follow other people’s orders and decides to track down the people who brought her to Earth in order to find out more about her past.
Halfway across the world we have Scarlet Benoit, a sassy French farm girl who’s beloved grandmother has suddenly gone missing. The police have closed the case, but Scarlet knows that her grandmother would never take off without telling her. When Scarlet’s suspicions that her grandmother has been kidnapped are confirmed, she enlists the help of Wolf, the new rough and tumble street fighter in town, to help rescue her grandmother. Along the way Scarlet learns shocking secrets about Wolf, her grandmother, and her own history. Scarlet and Cinder’s stories alternate throughout the novel until the two come together for an explosive and revelatory climax. But not in a dirty way.
Like rhymenocerous noted in her review of Cinder, none of the twists in Scarlet are particularly surprising if you have any familiarity with the source material or have ever read a dystopian novel. However, author Marissa Meyer’s execution of the story makes what could’ve been tired material feel fresh. The tight writing (even at 400+ pages), the quick pacing, and solid characterization make for a real page-turner. I was annoyed when I had to stop reading in order to do mundane things like go to the office.
Both Cinder and Scarlet make strong female main characters. I actually liked Cinder more in this one because she was a lot less victimy than in the first book. It’s not Meyer’s fault because original Cinderella is a pretty passive character in the first place, but in Scarlet, Cinder gets to take action and make choices about her own life. Scarlet comes close to “too stupid to live” territory at times (seriously, perhaps you should have a plan before rushing in to rescue your grandmother), but she’s also tough and not afraid to stand up for herself or others. Both characters are the damsels in distress at times, but they also take their turns doing the rescuing, which is awesome. My favorite character though was Captain Carswell Thorne because he’s one of my favorite types of characters: the charming rogue. He reminds me a bit of Han Solo, if Han Solo was a bit of a dandy. Seriously, Thorne was in solitary confinement because he had led the prison population in a soap rebellion. His skin is sensitive you know. I’ve heard he has a bigger part in the third book, which makes me happy.
Speaking of the third book, in addition to continuing the ongoing storylines, it’s supposed to be a retelling of Rapunzel and we have to wait until 2014 to read it. Booooooo!