This is the first volume in ‘The Lunar Chronicles’ quartet in which each novel is based on a different fairy-tale, none adhering slavishly to the original. In this futuristic adaptation of Cinderella, for instance, the protagonist’s silver slipper is transmuted into the heroine’s prosthetic foot, a mark of her inferior cyborg status. Common to both the traditional story and Meyer’s version, however, is the central theme of romance, between, in this case, Prince Kai and Cinder, the city’s best mechanic. However, the equally prominent strand of mystery and adventure which underpins the narrative ensures that no simplistic resolution is possible. The Lunar ruler, Queen Levana, sees marriage to Kai as a way of extending her empire and bribes him with the antidote to the plague gripping earth which has just killed his father. Cinder’s immunity to the disease raises questions concerning her origins, the unfolding of which, while no surprise to the reader, undermines the queen’s position and threatens Cinder’s life.
Meyer’s novel is engaging and often witty, with side-swipes at tabloid journalism, jokes about the dominance of wives and England’s ruler, this being one Queen Camilla. On a more serious level, her exploration of cyborgs, like Rowling’s discussion of mud-bloods, allows for analysis of social prejudice, while the depiction of the ‘brainwashing’ abilities of Lunars, coupled with the sensory deprivation of the stark whiteness of Cinder’s prison cell, evokes notions of the outrages of the cold war period. The ambivalence of the ending leads naturally into a sequel.