Monday, May 26, 2014

SCARLET


Review of SCARLET by MARISSA MEYER
(second in THE LUNAR CHRONICLES series)

I loved CINDER, the first in this series, so I started SCARLET with high expectations. Well, SCARLET actually exceeds CINDER and I didn’t think that was possible. Note, though, that I discourage reading any further in this review if you haven’t read CINDER, the first book in The Lunar Chronicles.

Though there’s an overarching story across the series, each book retells a particular fairy tale. This time it’s “Little Red Riding Hood.” Scarlet, our Little Red character, desperately wants to find her missing grandmother, but neighbors and police don’t take the absence seriously. In her search for information, Scarlet falls in with a professional fighter who goes by Wolf. He screams mysterious and dangerous, but none of that matters to Scarlet if he knows (or can find out) where her grandmother has gone. Meanwhile, Cinder escapes prison and unintentionally frees another criminal, a handsome and charming, if infuriating, rogue named Thorne, who becomes her co-conspirator as they both figure out their next steps.

At first I felt massively disappointed when SCARLET opened in a new character’s perspective. I had fallen hard for Cinder and her surrounding cast and couldn’t wait to return to her, uh, quandaries. The first book ended on more than one cliffhanger: Cinder now knows she’s the long lost princess Selene, the Lunar queen wants her dead, prince Kai has discovered both Cinder’s cyborg and Lunar identities - well, it’s all a mess. All I wanted at first was to find out what’s happening with Cinder, but it didn’t take long for Scarlet to grow on me just as much. Not to mention all the other new characters, such as Wolf and Thorne, in this installment. I expect with each new book Meyer will flesh the story out with more uniquely addicting additions. Cinder does enter the story relatively soon, though by then I already cared equally about Scarlet. In the second chapter, Cinder enters from a distance. Scarlet doesn’t know her, but the footage of the scene at the ball is playing everywhere with everyone discussing it and Scarlet unintentionally provokes a fight by arguing with someone about the mysterious Lunar cyborg girl. Then it’s perhaps around Chapter 4 that we get our first glimpse back into Cinder’s life. From that point on, the chapters alternate perspectives as Meyer navigates among all her new viewpoint characters.

SCARLET has a lot of confusing fight scenes and, believe it or not, I mean confusing as a compliment. The scenes aren’t confusing to follow; they’re confusing for the characters. Since Meyer has introduced both mind control and glamour into this world, fights are peppered with instances of allies betraying each other due to mind control or mistaking an ally for an enemy or vice versa due to glamour. Meyer actually makes this chaos impressively easy to follow, but I enjoyed the added confusion in already complicated brawls. 

I find the writing in these books fantastic in the invisible sense. I don’t find myself pausing to admire phrases but I tore through both CINDER and SCARLET without even thinking about or noticing the writing, only the story and characters. These are definitely what I would call page-turners. Sometimes I had to remind myself to slow down - when I wanted to know what happens next so badly that I worried I would read so fast I might miss an important detail.

I expected to like this series, but entirely underestimated how much and am now kicking myself for letting CINDER and sequels be bumped down on my to-read list for so long. The thing about the retold fairy tales label is that the reader thinks they know the story. CINDER may be marketed as a cyborg twist on Cinderella, but it’s so much more than that. Meyer uses the fairy tales as bare bones influence. Not only does she add layers and layers of worldbuilding and additional conflicts into her books, but she takes license to interpret the original fairy tale loosely so you can’t assume you know how the story ends. As one example in SCARLET, Meyer does a stellar job making Wolf an ambiguous character. Is he good? Is he bad? If he’s the wolf character, he must be bad, right? Unless his nickname is a misdirect and the wolf role will be filled by someone else. Or perhaps he had bad intentions originally but Scarlet changes his mind. Or maybe he has been the bad guy from the start and Scarlet’s a fool not to call it. Honestly, I didn’t know what to think and the truth came as a refreshing surprise with a well-executed tug-of-war between do and don’t trust him.

In short, another gush-worthy book from Marissa Meyer.

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