Picking up where Scarlet left off, with Kai’s announcement of his engagement to Levana and the cessation of Lunar hostilities on Earth, we are formally introduced right off the bat to our newest heroine, Cress. Imprisoned for the last seven years by Sybil Mira in a satellite orbiting Earth, Cress, who is a programming prodigy, has been ordered to monitor, spy, protect, hack, re-program and hide whatever and whomever Queen Levana wishes. Unfortunately for Queen Levana, her prisoner has a conscience, a love for Earth, a desire to help Linh Cinder overthrow Levana, and the intelligence to do so behind the Queen’s back. So when the ragtag fugitive crew of the Rampion contact her for information they could use to stop Levana from being crowned Empress (and from marrying Kai. Bonus.), Cress is afforded not only the opportunity to fight back against Levana, but also the chance to escape her inescapable prison.
Cress. Cress is quite a different sort of heroine than the stubborn, snarky Cinder and the fiery, brave Scarlet. Growing up by largely by herself with little human interaction, Cress is naive, a bit (re: adorably) socially awkward, wears her heart (in flashing neon lights) on her sleeve, and is often awed by/disoriented by/unsure of new situations. But she’s also a strong heroine, just not in all the same ways Cinder and Scarlet are. Cress is highly intelligent, retains knowledge like a sponge and can turn any computer system into her own personal playground. She’s quietly determined, covertly defying Levana despite potential consequences. Because of this defiance, she’s constantly faced with situations in Cress that throw her frighteningly out of her element. However, she pushes herself onward because she must. She’s courageous, and I absolutely adore her. Her wide-eyed sweetness, honesty, and rampant imagination made her an incredibly endearing character, and the evolution of her character throughout the book is fantastic.
Thorne. The charismatic, handsome, dashing (and ever-opportunistic) Captain Carswell Thorne managed to steal the innocent Cress’s heart from over her netscreen. I mean, of course he did. If Han Solo, Malcolm Reynolds and John Crichton all had an extremely impossible (yet undeniably tall and good looking) love child together… he would be it. Stuck in a satellite, studying up on the Earth’s two most-wanted fugitives, Cress has developed a serious crush on the Thorne she’s pieced together from reports and records, and it was interesting to watch the real Thorne pitted against the idealistic perspective of himself that Cress has created in her mind. When push comes to shove, who will he prove himself to be?
If there was one thing I wish had been different about Scarlet, it was more character development for Thorne. I mean, he fit the role of “roguish anti-hero” extremely well in Scarlet, with his questionable loyalties and his hilarious one-liners, and he provided a great foil for Cinder’s character development in the second novel. However, I never felt I really got to see what he was made of in Scarlet… and I really, desperately wanted to know. If you, Dear Reader, had similar thoughts, rejoice! Your wish has been granted in Cress.
Cinder. The weight of two worlds quite literally resting (i.e. crushing down) on her 16-year-old cybernetic shoulders, Cinder knows what she needs to do (if not how to exactly achieve it), but conflicted about her role and uncertain of her capabilities. Her personal journey as a character continues to be wonderfully compelling as she continues to be tested, tried and stretched in a multitude of ways.
Kai. “Between a rock and a hard place” sums up Kai’s situation quite nicely, I believe. The newly-crowned emperor, and recently orphaned 18-year-old, has been faced with challenge after unimaginable challenge since inheriting his father’s throne… and he’s not nearly out of the woods yet.
Scarlet. Of all three girls, Scarlet gets the least amount of page time in Cress, but what she does get is critically important and extremely enlightening… and, that’s all I’ll say.
Wolf. Like Scarlet, Wolf is relegated to a slightly more secondary role in this book, but his ongoing battle between his humanity and his more, shall we say, primal instincts is still a very present theme.
Iko. Iko may just be one of my favorite characters. An android though she may be, Iko’s sentience has exceeded her programming. She’s evolved — able to rationalize, make her own decisions, have likes and dislikes, experience her own emotions. Some of her interactions with Cinder in this book made me laugh out loud, because though Cinder is human, Iko’s almost better at it. Iko’s exuberance for life and love is a catching thing, and makes her a character that is, in all the ways that count, easy to identify with.
Romance. Come one, come all, there is romance to be had! Since The Lunar Chronicles is an amalgam of different fairy tales, particularly the princess ones, it’s to be expected that romance will play a fairly big part in these books. However, what I love about Marissa’s stories that while the romance is an overarching factor, Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Co.’s stories are about so much more than that — civil rights, identity, self-acceptance, having the courage to stand up for what’s right even when it’s unbelievably hard, if ends justifying the means, humanity, tolerance, how to affect change, and growing up. It’s about adventure, and narrow escapes, and mortal peril. It’s about spaceships, cool gadgets, and robots, and cheering for the underdogs. And, yes, it’s also about a prince, a wolf, a scoundrel… and kissing. From the fragile, star-crossed romance of Cinder & Kai that barely had a chance to begin, to the fiery and intense chemistry of Scarlet & Wolf, Marissa now pits the charming and worldly Captain Thorne against the sweetness and naivete of Cress. This could’ve easily turned into a very cliched romantic archetype, the innocent and the bad boy. You know what I’m talking about. But I’ll hand it to Marissa, I really love what she did both individually and together with these two. It’s good. *slow claps*
Story. The plot of Cress can be summed up in one simple, central statement, “Stop Levana from becoming Empress.” Unfortunately, for Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Co. (and fortunately for us readers, sadists that we are) the logistics of accomplishing that mission statement are a bit (i.e. A LOT) more… A.) Challenging. B.) Exciting. C.) Incredibly and insanely dangerous. D.) All of the above
I’ll give you a hint. It’s ‘D.’
Though it numbers a somewhat daunting 560 pages, Cress is an absolute page-turner, and I flew through it. As with Cinder and Scarlet, Marissa tells the story using multiple narrators, multiple perspectives — in Cress there’s six that I can name off the top of my head — which I’m typically not a fan of, but the change in narrators is clearly marked by chapter, and these characters are just so well developed with unique and distinctive voices. They are all characters I’ve become emotionally invested in. And these factors make all the difference.
Also, Meyer’s pacing is pretty darn near PERFECT. She’d suck me into one character’s story, only to leave to leave it for another when something — be it a conversation or someone’s life — was hanging in the balance, and then it’d be the same kind of thing with the next narrator. It’s an extremely vicious, horribly wonderful cycle. And it made it ridiculously impossible to find a good stopping point. “Oh, I just want to see what happens with So-and-So.” “But Whoosawhasit’s in trouble!” And “How in the name of the Millenium Falcon’s hyperdrive are they going to get out of this one?!?!” I cannot tell you how many “Just one more chapter!” promises I made to myself while reading this book, and how many times I broke them.
I’m also greatly impressed with how many little details and plot points Marissa incorporates from all of the fairy tales into her story and how creatively they are included. The way she’s interwoven all of these stories together and the obvious amount of forethought that’s gone into The Lunar Chronicles that’s being revealed as the series goes on is just continually impressive.
Yes. I might be fangirling a little bit right now. Nevertheless, it’s still true!
Overall. Absolutely phenomenal. An already excellent series just got even better.