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Scarlet: The Lunar Chronicles Book 2
Marissa Meyer
Feiwell and Friends, 454 pages

Scarlet
Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer lives in Tacoma, Washington. She's a fan of most things geeky (Sailor Moon, Firefly, color-coordinating her bookshelf...), and has been in love with fairy tales since she was given a small book of them when she was a child. She may or may not be a cyborg. Cinder was her first novel.

Marissa Meyer Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

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Linh Cinder, humble mechanic, has been exposed as both a cyborg and a Lunar, and imprisoned. Levana, ruthless queen of Luna, is demanding her extradition, knowing full well that Cinder is one of the few threats standing between her and domination of both Luna and Earth. Cinder has only just learned that she's actually the lost Princess Selene, long thought dead but secretly spirited away to hide on Earth. She has no intentions of staying locked up. But if she escapes, she's going to need friends.

Enter Scarlett.

The French-born Scarlet Benoit is an ace pilot and fiery-tempered young woman, desperately searching for her grandmother, who was kidnapped weeks ago. Her quest brings her into contact with the enigmatic street fighter only known as Wolf, who claims to have run away from his former gang... the same people who may have Scarlet's grandmother in their possession. Scarlet and Wolf form an uneasy alliance as they head for Paris, dodging constant danger. But despite a growing mutual attraction, Scarlet may be in the more danger from Wolf himself. For a wolf never entirely escapes his pack….

Meanwhile, Cinder, now a fugitive from ill-applied justice, has hooked up with the roguish Captain Carswell Thorne, an American soldier-turned-smuggler and opportunist. Their partnership is equally uneasy and unlikely, but Thorne has something Cinder desperately needs -- a ship. Now they can stay one jump ahead of the authorities seeking them.

When Cinder and Scarlet finally cross paths, it's in the middle of a crisis. Levana, determined to get her way at all costs, obsessed with taking the Earth through guile or might, launches a surprise attack that will hopefully force Kai, Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth, to bow to her desires. But what will our heroines have to say about that?

Scarlet, second in the Lunar Chronicles series, picks up shortly after the end of Cinder, and widens the scope of the story by introducing new characters and a new level of threat and mystery. I originally thought we'd see five books all focused on Cinder and her adventures, but it seems as though Marissa Meyer had a larger plan in mind all along. Quite obviously, Cinder is a science fiction retelling of Cinderella; just as obviously, this is loosely inspired by Little Red Riding Hood.

The parallels are pretty obvious: Scarlet, a girl who often wears a red hoodie (apparently hoodies are still a thing centuries from now...), is looking to find her grandmother, and she encounters a wolf along the way. And, as is so often the case these days, the wolf figure also incorporates a level of werewolf mythos (albeit a science fictional twist). And, as is equally common, there's a definite romantic element. Now, the wolf doesn't exactly eat the grandmother and wear her clothes in a ploy to trick the girl, nor does a passing hunter come along to save the day; in that regard the story takes its divergent liberties. But Scarlet's portion of the tale being set in France is definitely a callback to Charles Perrault, the French writer who first popularized the European fairy/folk tale which had existed in various forms for centuries. (It makes for an interesting contrast to the way Cinder retold Cinderella in a futuristic Chinese setting.)

One of the good things about this book is that both Cinder and Scarlet are strong, independent, resourceful young women, who do the bulk of their own fighting and rescuing, and the guys tend to be along for the ride. Cinder breaks out of prison with an almost blasé casualness, taking Captain Thorne along simply because he happened to be in the way and potentially useful. Scarlet shows no hesitation when it comes to fighting for her life or doing what she deems necessary. At one point, she straight-up shoots Wolf, albeit non-lethally, when it looks like he's going to compromise her goals. While neither girl is perfect or unrelentingly strong, they definitely pull their weight and drive their respective stories.

I wasn't quite so enamored of the romance between Scarlet and Wolf. It was just a little too obvious, a little too rote-like. Despite the futuristic trappings, it felt too much like the sort of thing we see in every other paranormal romance. She's a strong woman, he's a beast who needs socializing, of course they're going to fall for one another. And when, at one point, Wolf and one of his former packmates fight, ostensibly over her, it feels way too much like the usual alpha-male malarkey that threatens to drown paranormal romances in testosterone and hurt feelings.

Mind you, the power and emotional dynamic between the two is a little more sophisticated than that, but it didn't feel as interesting as the rocky state of affairs existing between Cinder and Kai, which looked promising before everything went to pot in the previous book.

I'm still interested in how the overarching plot will develop. With Cinder finally embracing her status as the lost Lunar Princess, understanding that she can't run forever and that she has to stand up to Queen Levana, it looks like we're in for a fairly interesting story. But will it be the noble rebellion, or outright war? With two more books to go in the projected series, it's anyone's guess.

(As a note of interest, the third book is named Cress, while the fourth is Winter. Looks like we're in for Rapunzel and Snow White in the near-ish future!)

So we're now halfway through the series, and while we've seen some significant progress, this book still feels, in many ways, like the dreaded "middle chapter" of a trilogy. While the first book was all about setup and world building, this was about moving pieces into place, gathering the cast together, and pushing the heroine(s) in the right direction for their character growth. Most of this book is split fairly evenly between Cinder and Scarlet's separate stories, so that each of them only gets half a book worth of development and action. Mind you, it's a lot of development and action, but still, the split focus means the story does a fair amount of backtracking. After all, we also have to bring in three new characters with significant back stories and incorporate them into the narrative.

(I was about to say how nice it is that Thorne, a charming if annoying, rapscallion and rogue who rocks a Han Solo vibe, doesn't get sucked up into a romance of his own, when it struck me: if we're introducing a Rapunzel character, it seems fitting that her love interest be named Thorne. Come on, people, we know our classic fairy tales, right? That's my guess, anyway…)

Joking aside, I really did enjoy Scarlet. While there's no shortage of retold fairy tales (Yours Truly has haven some liberties of his own in that field *cough*), Meyer knows when to keep the base elements and digress as needed. While you can't top Cinderella as a grease monkey with a cybernetic foot, rethinking Scarlet as a farmer-turned-pilot is a nice touch.

While there's a ways to go in the series as a larger entity, Scarlet provides a satisfying installment, building on what's come before and expanding it, while giving new characters and situations a chance to shine. Cinder still tops it in terms of interesting originality, but this is not a bad book by any stretch. I can't wait to see how the other books tackle their respective fairy tales. I'd love to see Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White teamed up to kick the evil queen's ass. (And yeah, before you say it, I do know that Jim C. Hines already did something like that, and it was a thousand times better because of many reasons and if you haven't checked out that series, you really should, even though it's not YA.)

If you like science fiction, YA, and fairy tales, and have always wanted all three elements to come together, this may very well be your lucky day.

Copyright © 2013 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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