Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer -- A Fairy Tale Adventure Continues

Right, I've been absent from this blog for far too long and I do have reasons, not that they're good ones, but that's not what I'm here to explain right now.

No, right now I'm here to post a review of the second book in Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles, Scarlet, which I read the second it landed in my mailbox back in late February/early March and have been touting to friends with great enthusiasm ever since. But, I just found out yesterday that the staff at MacTeen have a surprise up their sleeves for bloggers who have posted reviews of Scarlet. Well, I hate not to be in on surprises so I thought I'd expand on the review I posted to Goodreads some time ago.

For anyone who is not familiar with The Lunar Chronicles, the series began in 2012 with Cinder, a re-imagining of Cinderella set in the distant future version of Beijing. Cinder is an orphan being raised by a controlling and cold step-mother, which is no surprise. What is a surprise is that Cinder is a cyborg -- part human, part machine -- who has no memories of her life until shortly before arriving in New Beijing at the age of ten or eleven. A gifted mechanic, Cinder is the primary source of income for her family, but is treated as property because of her cyborg status. The excitement begins when Cinder's step-mother volunteers her as a test subject in the research to combat a deadly plague that is ravaging the population. It is through this encounter that Cinder begins the voyage of discovery towards uncovering her true identity and becomes embroiled in the political stalemate between the Earthen governments and the predatory Queen Levana of the Lunar kingdom. Levana has her sights set on conquering Earth, can Cinder stop her?

The action is fast paced, the integration of the tropes of the familiar fairy tale are cleverly handled, but the real standout is Cinder herself. Talented, resourceful, caring and braver than she thinks she is, you will find yourself rooting for her from the beginning. If you haven't read Cinder yet, go, pick up a copy, it will be well worth the investment of time and money. Of course, once you do that you will be hooked and you will be chomping at the bit to move along to the second volume in this four book saga, Scarlet

While Cinder is a reworking of the Cinderella tale, Scarlet takes on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Scarlet Benoit lives and works on a farm in France with her grandmother, except that her grandmother is missing. Scarlet refuses to believe that she's been abandoned or that her grandmother is dead. Reluctantly enlisting the help of an itinerant street fighter, Wolf, Scarlet goes in search of her beloved grandmother and discovers more than she expects about the woman she has known and loved. And, who is Wolf, really? Should she trust him and why is she so drawn to him? 

Interwoven with Scarlet's quest is the continuing story of Cinder who needs to escape from prison before she is handed over to the merciless Queen Levana.

Now, I have to admit, it took me a bit longer to warm up to Scarlet than Cinder, but I think that is a consequence of the structural requirements of the story Meyer needs to tell here. This second volume of The Lunar Chronicles is a high adrenaline speed chase from start to finish. As such it suffers a bit in comparison to Cinder. Because of the introduction of a raft of new characters while simultaneously propelling forward two separate, action packed narrative threads that don't collide until near the end, there is not nearly as much of the character driven interest that made the first volume such a standout. What there is does work well -- I enjoyed the romance between Scarlet and Wolf, Cinder's growing acceptance of her identity, and most especially Iko's adaptation to her new body. Iko, and Thorne, as comic relief elements flirt with the hackneyed conventions we all know so well from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but they are charming nonetheless.

In the end, this may not be the best entry into this series, but it still fabulous entertainment and transforms the central figures of the fairytale canon into self-reliant and capable young women that it is a joy to encounter in the pages of a book. I am extremely disappointed that the next volume, Cress -- which incorporates the story of Rapunzel into its plot -- won't be available until next year. I am not a patient woman. 

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