Narrator: Rebecca Soler
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #1
Published by Macmillan Audio on 1/3/12
Genres: Science Fiction
Book description (via Goodreads):
“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .
Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”
True confession: I’m not a fan of the Cinderella fairy tale but with this book, the story of Cinderella is just a launching pad for a terrific YA sci-fi tale. A theme of injustice that turns to triumph is clearly the basic framework for this series but the author has created an inventive riff on the old folktale and she takes it and runs with it, often in unexpected directions – not the least of which is “Cinderella” as cyborg. From Lunar people who possess magic to portions of the story from the Prince’s point-of-view to a virulent plague that affects both Cinder and Prince Kai’s families, there are new elements mixed in with the familiar that keep the book moving at a steady pace.
Can I spot aspects of the story that some readers might find bothersome? Yes. The listener is dropped into the middle of the world without a lot of explanation about how it came to be and that aspect isn’t developed as the story goes along. The political structure is suitably defined and a pretty strong sense of place is present in terms of the physical surroundings but the cultural component/flavor (this is New Beijing, after all) is surprisingly absent. Other than knowing they exist and meeting their deliciously evil Queen, we learn nothing about how the Lunar people came to live on the moon and there is very little information about their society other than that there are those who possess glamours and those who are reviled and killed for not having them. In addition, the revelations near the end will come as a surprise to no one. Since this book is labeled as the 1st in the Lunar Chronicles, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there are a lot of unresolved plot lines at the end of the book. Not a cliff-hanger according to my definition but it certainly left me wanting more information (or the next book). None of these aspects particularly bothered me because the story moved at a nice clip and I was immediately invested in the characters but they are worth acknowledging.
The story succeeded on multiple fronts for me. Creativity is a big one but in addition, Cinder is a very relateable and sympathetic character. I was a bit surprised at the level of outrage I felt at the prejudice towards her based on her cyborg parts (she’s only 36% mechanical for crying out loud and she thinks and feels, how does that make her sub-human!?) let alone the way she was treated as property by her “stepmother” so the social metaphors that could be built on that plot line were clearly effective on me. Cinder is a competent young woman and while I might have been wishing for her to find her happy ever after, I was content in the knowledge that if she didn’t get it, she’d be fine on her own.
This is probably more of a producer-related comment because my opinion of the narrator’s skill is wholly positive. I am at a complete loss as to why characters who dwell in New Beijing have American accents. I might have gone with an assumption of a homogenous future in terms of universal language or accents but at one point, Cinder wonders if the doctor’s accent was “European? American?” I’m discomfited at the idea that a production decision was made based on a belief that Americans won’t listen to audiobooks where the main character has an Asian/Chinese accent.
That aside, Rebecca Soler delivers very age-appropriate voices for the characters and her performance choices perfectly matched Cinder’s youth (she’s sixteen), which helped increased my indignation about her maltreatment. Whether it was a monotone robot, a silky and sly-voiced Lunar queen (that one raised my hackles), a chipper and plucky android, the noble yet down-to-earth prince, or the ambiguous figure of the royal doctor, I can’t imagine the characters being performed any other way. There were times, especially when her thoughts were sliding to the negative end of the scale, when Cinder’s inner dialogue was given a sense of vocal intimacy that was a superb delivery choice. Not only did it clearly delineate the lines as thoughts rather than speech, it also had an immediate emotional effect on me as the listener. The energy Ms. Soler brought to the story was perfect and I don’t have a single criticism about her performance.
This was good book with great narration and I enjoyed it quite a bit while still feeling it had more of a YA vibe than most of the books in that category that I’ve read.