This series was really popular during the Young Adult dystopia craze, but even though I’d bought a copy of the first book ages ago, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now. In the end though I think that was a good thing since it allowed me to read all four of the Lunar Chronicles novels one after the other rather than waiting for sequels to be released. This series is definitely best read contiguously. However, I’ll be straight with you: I didn’t really get into this series until the fourth book.
First a little background about each of the books.
*SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*
The first novel, Cinder, focused on introducing some of the series’ power players and it’s setting. Earth has entered a peaceful Third Era in which today’s current nations have centralized their power into regional “countries” and progressed technologically. Cinder and Kai are from the Eastern Commonwealth, which, while located in Japan, represents much of what we know today as the Asian continent. Kai is the monarchical emperor and Cinder is a cyborg mechanic with – you guessed it – a hidden destiny. She crosses paths with Kai one day at work when he hires her to fix his android and they develop an unlikely friendship from there. Their personal story continues to follow the Cinderella narrative, but the other plot devices introduced in the first installment are tantamount to the overall story.
- Earth is suffering from a pandemic called letumosis. It’s killed a substantial portion of the world’s population without relief in sight.
- Earth is attempting to create a political alliance with Luna, a human colony on the moon, but Luna is ruled by an unfriendly monarch – an evil queen you might say – who seeks to use Earth’s weakness for her own gain.
- Lunars have an uncanny ability to manipulate bioelectricity, aka change people’s perceptions in order to force their will upon others. It is a “gift” genetically endowed to (nearly) all Lunars, but one which is strongest amongst members of the royal family.
The second novel introduces Scarlet, a red hoodie wearing farm girl in search of her missing grandmother. We find out that her grandmother has been kidnapped by special operatives sent down from Luna (ones who are genetically modified with wolf DNA) because she has information about Princess Selene, the lost princess from Luna whom the Evil Queen supposedly killed to secure her throne. Meanwhile, Emperor Kai is being pressured into a marriage alliance with the Evil Queen in exchange for an anecdote she’s developed to letumosis and Cinder has discovered that she’s not only a cyborg, but also a Lunar. Despite a growing friendship with outlawed Cinder (Lunars are not allowed on Earth by the Evil Queen’s decree), Kai agrees to the marriage in order to stop a series of mass attacks by Lunar special operatives all over the world.
The third installment introduces hacker genius Cress, a sixteen year old Lunar who’s been trapped alone in a satellite for years by the Evil Queen and forced to spy on Earthens for her. That is until she’s (sort of) rescued and brought to Earth by Cinder and her growing rag-tag group of friends. Cress, no lover of the Queen, quickly becomes their go-to tech girl and makes herself indispensable to the team. In this book it is also revealed that the plague was manufactured by Luna and released as a bioweapon to pacify the Earth for conquering. The Evil Queen’s grand plan unfolds bit by bit and Cinder, who is now certain of her identity as the Lost Princess Selene, is determined to stop her – if only to save her beloved Kai from a deadly marriage and the Earth from a dictatorship.
The fourth book was where this series really started to come together. Lunar Princess Winter, the stepdaughter of the Evil Queen, is introduced, but with the series already following so many characters, her story is much less central to the book’s plot then the previous three women had been. In this book, Cinder and her friends take to Luna to start a revolution and bring down the Evil Queen’s monarchy. Winter provides a certain amount of sympathy and expertise from the inside and though she’s mentally unstable, she’s also very well loved by her people and becomes a solid rallying point for the recruits. It takes information and characters gathered from each of the three previous novels to bring this series to it’s resounding 800 + page conclusion, but it was definitely a solid tie in with no loose plot threads remaining and, of all the books, this one was my favorite. All along the series the reader is gathering information, and it became quite clear at points where the plot was headed; it felt nice to finally have all the characters together on the same page with the readers.
Now for my personal thoughts on the Lunar Chronicles.
The Lunar Chronicles are based on four different women – Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White – each of whom share quite similar stories in that they have troubled family lives and rely on men to save them. Their source material is truly only a smidge more complex than that, so it was no doubt easy for Meyer to retell their stories with just a loose allusion to their original inspiration, though I do wish she’d filled them out just a little bit more. While each was given a backstory, their personalities still felt niched in a way that fell flat to me. In fact, my favorite characters were the ones who didn’t have fairytale counterparts. Given a bit of freedom to be creative, Meyer proved herself capable of inventing truly lovable characters who were 100% her own and I wish there had been more of them.
Also, while I understand the concept of pacing and I can appreciate a series that weaves together four separate narratives into one – it’s no easy task – there was nothing particularly endearing about any of the books individually. So while it was clear that each installment continued to build out the interconnected plot, each one on its own was rather formulaic. It was as if the author had taken her series outline, methodically chopped it up into four sections, and measured out just the right amount of action and clues to each of the books. It felt, to be frank, somewhat forced.
That said, I liked the premise of this series. I’m a very big fan of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, so I thought it would interesting to see another writer’s take on interconnected fairytale retellings. And overall I thought it was a fun series. As a whole I’d give it four out of five stars. I would just encourage patience through the first three novels while Meyer lays the necessary groundwork for Winter. Though a bit stiff in execution, it really was an interesting plot and I greatly enjoyed seeing it all come together.