Fairy tales. Androids. Space.
This is how I struggled to briefly explain The Lunar Chronicles to a friend of mine recently, and while it makes for an intriguing tagline, it does not do justice to a series that I thoroughly enjoyed and heartily recommend.
Written by Marissa Meyer, The Lunar Chronicles is a 4-part series that includes Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. There are also two companion books to the series, Fairest and Stars Above, as well as an upcoming graphic novel, Wires and Nerve, that can be omitted without missing any of the action of the main story, but are still worth a look as they provide further insight into the characters and a peek into their lives after the conclusion of Winter.
The Story: An Overview
The series takes familiar fairy tales and interweaves them in a future setting where cybernetics and robotics are part of everyday life, the people of Earth live in peace, and a moon colony, Luna, has developed into a large kingdom of genetically advanced humans who have developed mind-control powers. That’s right, you read that last bit correctly: mind-control powers.
Now, don’t worry. The series eases you into all this business about the moon-people, called Lunars, and their powers. The first book, Cinder, focuses on the life of a lowly cyborg mechanic, the titular character Cinder. Cyborgs are considered second-class citizens, and as such Cinder is at the mercy of her guardian and two stepsisters. Picking up on which fairy tale this might be yet? After Prince Kai, the future Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth, comes to Cinder for help repairing his android, she is gradually drawn into the politics of the tense Earth-Luna relationship and the wheels of the entire series are set in motion.
Cinder does a solid job world-building and setting up the plot to carry us through three more books, but it’s probably my least favorite of the series at around 3 stars. Not that it’s bad—the others are just so much better.
The second book is where things start to get weird. Along with Cinder’s story, we’re introduced to Scarlet, a young pilot whose grandmother has disappeared from their farm in the French countryside. In her search for her grandmother, Scarlet is swept up into a mysterious group of what she describes at one point as “righteous lupine wannabes” and a man who may or may not be trustworthy. Meanwhile Cinder struggles to get herself out of trouble and discovers she has a reason to track down Scarlet’s grandmother too.
Scarlet ups the ante in terms of action and romance, and is the book that took me from “I’d like to see where this goes” to “GIVE ME MORE!” I’d rank it as my third favorite, around 4 stars.
The third book numerically, but first in my heart, Cress finds Cinder & co. attempting to rescue a young hacker, the titular Cress, who’s been kept in a satellite orbiting earth for several years under the watchful eye of the Lunar thaumaturge Sybil. Naturally, they get there and chaos ensues. The rest of the book finds the group either trying to get back to each other, or trying to move on because they can’t imagine the others survived.
Cress has plenty of action, but I think I would describe it as the book that really builds and cements the characters & their relationship as a team, making it worth 5 stars in my book. Plus, I love Cress, and I love Thorne, and we get a lot of both of them in this book.
Book number four, Winter, is the conclusion to the main story. Cinder & co. put their final plan into motion to eliminate Levana, the evil queen of Luna, and naturally, when they get started, chaos ensues. We’re also introduced to the kind and lovely Princess Winter, the step-daughter of Levana and object of her envy and wrath. Her path crosses with Cinder’s crew, providing new opportunities and complications as they race to defeat Levana before she can be crowned Empress and get her hooks into Earth.
Winter has lots of action and great character moments, and while I was more interested in the stories of the characters we already know than the titular Winter, she’s still a lovable and fascinating character. I’d say Winter ranks as my second favorite in the series, still coming in around 5 stars.
Why You Should Read Them
What really makes this series stand out are the characters. They are well-rounded, believable, and relatable. Each of our protagonists shows us different ways to be heroes; Scarlet is bold, Cinder is strong, Cress has to remind herself to be heroic (literally), and Winter is selfless to a fault. Each brings something unique to the table and has a distinct voice, making for some entertaining interactions. On top of that, they are a diverse group of characters, something not often seen. Of the nine main characters, five are women, and only four are white.
Building on that are the character relationships. I’m not just talking about swoon-worthy romances (of which there are several), but friendships too! All of the relationships in this series feel very organic and grounded in the personalities of the characters who make them up and the circumstances in which they are thrown together.
I would say my favorite relationship might actually be the friendship that forms between Cinder and Thorne; they tease each other, trust each other, and look out for one another, all while spouting some of the best banter. Even better, this is a healthy male-female friendship that, while flirtatious in some of the teasing, remains platonic and does not pose a threat to either of their potential love interests!
Don’t let the fairy tale tie-ins dissuade you from this one if it’s not your usual fare. Meyer does a good job of acknowledging details of the original tales, but the world she creates and a few plot twists here and there keep each story from becoming too predictable. I recommend The Lunar Chronicles to fans of fairy tales (both classic and Disney), Firefly, and Star Wars.