Top positive review
A cyberpunk retelling of Little Red Riding Hood
Reviewed in the United States on September 24, 2020
I've been slowly making my way through a long list of books recommended to me by a librarian friend of mine. Next on the list was a series with a plot summary too intriguing to pass up on---a cyberpunk retelling of various classic fairytales. Upon completing and loving "Cinder", I was eager to dive into the futuristic alternate take of "Little Red Riding Hood" and wasn't disappointed.
Picking up right where "Cinder" left off, our titular heroine, having now discovered that she's the long lost Lunar princess, makes a daring prison escape to stay out of the clutches of the evil Queen Levana. With the help of a fellow inmate, the dashing and cocky Captain Thorne, Cinder makes a getaway into Earth orbit to plan her next move, as well as develop her newly-unlocked Lunar mind manipulation abilities. Meanwhile, in the heart of France, a young farm girl named Scarlet is searching for her grandmother, who was kidnapped by a group of unknown assailants who are seeking the old woman's military secrets. Scarlet's desperate investigation soon leads her into the world of underground street fighting, where she meets the acquaintance of a mysterious man named Wolf, who claims to be able to lead her to where her grandma is being held captive. And as both of our respective heroines forge alliances with these less-than-desirable men, Cinder will have to figure out how to use her Lunar gifts for the greater good. And Scarlet will discover not only that her grandma has connections to the Lunar princess, but that Wolf may actually be more beast than man....
Just like the previous novel, this is a rather long book, but not once does it drag. Every page is filled to the brim with either character development, or some new world building element. The story sports a really well-thought out setting with futuristic technology and an intricate history that's explained or hinted at periodically. Instead of New Beijing, the plot takes us to France this time, and we get to see the French countryside and ruined sections of Paris, hinting at more of the lore and background of this alternate future Earth. And much like our own contradictory real world, this is an Earth that's mostly united and promotes peace and understanding, but treats cyborgs like second class citizens who are barely human. This fear also extends to the Lunars; a once-human colony who evolved on the moon, and have since developed a brand of telepathic abilities, the likes of which their leader, Queen Levana, uses to brainwash and subjugate her people. Thankfully, the situation on the moon isn't all black and white, because as it turns out, not all Lunars are bad people, and also want to see her de-throned, and hate living under her dictatorship.
Because of this being a sequel, more page space can be devoted to fleshing out the already-established characters, and Cinder sees quite a bit of development. With her secret past as the lost Lunar princess exposed, our favorite mechanic now has to train herself on how to use her Lunar mind manipulation powers. But as the stakes continue to rise, Cinder is constantly debating with herself on what's the more ethical choice. When, if ever, is it okay to brainwash someone? Does the ends justify the means? And the more people that get caught in the crossfire of her conflict with the Queen, the more she learns the hard way that sometimes the worst mistakes are made with the best intentions.
Thankfully, she slowly (and quite accidentally) begins forming a team of friends to help her out. This includes Iko, a service android that was destroyed in the previous novel, but is rescued, with her memory/emotion chip installed into Cinder's get-a-way spaceship. As such, this once-minor character gets a lot more to do this time around, from gathering important information for our heroes, to providing some funny commentary to the events unfolding. (I also can't help but wonder if Iko is a possible parallel to the mice that get turned into horses to pull Cinderella's carriage from the old fairy tale.) We're also graced with the arrival of Captain Thorne; a prisoner that escapes alongside Cinder, and together, the two gradually develop an unexpected partnership. He's a snarky ladies man akin to Han Solo from 'Star Wars', but despite his criminal past, he clearly has a moral code and doesn't want to hurt anyone unless absolutely necessary. He has no qualms about Cinder being a cyborg and accepts her Lunar heritage quickly (mainly because her abilities come in handy in getting them out of jams). And though the parallel is a bit of a stretch, I suspect he's supposed to be the equivalent of the huntsman/lumberjack/woodsman from "Little Red Riding Hood".
And speaking of "Little Red", by contrast to the 'cool under pressure' Cinder, this novel sees the arrival of Scarlet---a tomboyish hothead who struggles to keep her anger under control, is quick to act without thinking things through, and finds it hard to trust anyone. She could've easily come off as annoying, but her attitude is understandable, considering her troubled upbringing, and the horrible way in which her beloved grandmother disappeared. And her never ending pursuit to rescue her grandma by any means necessary makes her bravery and determination all the more admirable. This soon leads to the introduction of Wolf, the mysterious street fighter and walking contradiction. At some turns, he's calm, quiet, calculating, caring, introspective, and protective. But whenever he has to stand up and fight, he turns into a nearly unstoppable killing machine. It's interesting how both of our heroines wind up having to team up with shady characters to further their own goals. One is more secretive while the other is practically an open book, and as time goes by, it'll become clear which one of these men is more loyal to their respective lady. Still, when we find out why Wolf is the way he is, he remains sympathetic, and by book's end, he just might be able to shed the moniker of the "Big Bad Wolf". And likewise, the once-lonely Scarlet will soon find herself in the company of the weirdest, but most loyal friends she could ask for.
Simply put, this is shaping up to be a unique and creative futuristic twist on the classic fairytales we've all come to know. I've been enjoying the ride and can't wait to see what happens next. Time to dive into "Cress"!