Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
I enjoyed Cinder and its futuristic dystopia retelling of Cinderella, with the heroine as a cyborg princess from the moon, who’s also an expert mechanic. This sequel introduces a new character, Scarlet, an avatar of Red Riding Hood, while continuing Cinder’s adventures through alternating points of view. As with the first book, the connection between the fairy tale and this retelling is weak, based on a few key details: Scarlet’s red hoodie sweatshirt, her grandmother, an intriguing but dangerous man named Wolf. The strange, threatening setting takes center stage as a shadowy gang of “wolves” working for the villainess, Lunar Queen Levana, attack cities all over the world.
The Scarlet/Wolf relationship brings up a lot of the same issues I’ve seen raised in analyses of Beauty and the Beast as an abusive relationship. Wolf lies to her and manipulates her into putting herself in danger, but she ultimately forgives him. He appears to fall quickly and deeply in love with her, and wants to protect her, but is constrained by his position in the Lunar organization of “wolf” soldiers. There is a moment when he comes close to harming her, thanks to the mind control that he’s under, but he resists. I don’t find the story objectionable, probably because it’s mostly pretty delicately handled, and Scarlet does a good job of standing up for herself.
The action in this book is nonstop: Cinder and another jailbird, Thorne, escape prison and evade capture, while Scarlet and Wolf take a dangerous train to Paris in search of her grandmother. Both girls fight for their lives and work to solve the mysteries of Levana’s plans and Scarlet’s grandmother’s connection to Cinder. Eventually, the two meet and team up against Levana. The novel ends with Cinder coming to terms with her identity as the Lunar heir and setting out a plan to defeat the evil queen. It’s an exciting series that’s fun to read and has a nice dash of romance. I’m looking forward to the next novel in the series!