Review: Scarlet

The Lunar Chronicles are probably the most popular set of YA science fiction books these days. They aren’t known only for their futuristic cyborgs, though, but also for their modern re-imaginings of classic fairy tales. But do the books live up to the greatness of the ideas behind them? Below are my thoughts on Scarlet, the second book. For my review on Cinder, the opening volume of this series, click here.

About the book: Scarlet has spent most of her life on her grandmother’s farm in France. When her grandmother suddenly goes missing, not only does Scarlet find herself suddenly and completely alone, but she also seems to be the only one suspicious of the disappearance. Although she is at first skeptical about the timing of his arrival to town, Scarlet befriends a newcomer who calls himself Wolf as she sets out on her own search for her grandmother. Despite his connection to the gang Scarlet believes has kidnapped her grandmother, Wolf convinces Scarlet of his innocence and promises to share what he knows and accompany her to Paris, where he claims the gang has a headquarters that may be housing Scarlet’s grandma. When Scarlet learns that her grandmother has been scarletkidnapped for top secret information regarding Princess Selene, she believes there’s been a mistake or misunderstanding. How can Scarlet’s family, safe and busy on their farm, have anything to do with old rumors about a Lunar royal child whom most of the world believes to be dead? How far can she trust her memories of her grandmother’s past? How far can she trust her new ally, Wolf?

“And she’d almost trusted him… she’d thought she was helping him. Stars above, she’d flirted with him, and all the while, he knew. She recalled those moments of peculiar amusement, the glint in his eyes, and her stomach twisted. He’d been laughing at her.”

Scarlet is narrated in alternating chapters between Scarlet’s and Cinder’s perspectives, so in addition to the new story about Scarlet (a new take on Red Riding Hood), the reader also gets to see what has become of Cinder after she is imprisoned as  result of her encountering Queen Levana at Prince Kai’s annual ball. At first, the switching between characters can be a bit confusing. The two girls seemed like the same person simply planted in different circumstances. It is challenging to separate what’s going on and with whom until the characters and plot are well established. Further into the book, though, it becomes easier to separate the threads of the story and recognize immediately when the narration is switching from one character to the other, although even by the end of the book the only personality differences I noted between Scarlet and Cinder were a combination of anger and rashness on Scarlet’s part. Where Cinder is patient and logical, Scarlet is quick to react and lash out, no matter the consequences. Otherwise, I’m a little disappointed by how interchangeable our main characters seem in this book. Their motivations, however, remain constant and distinct.

“All Cinder had ever wanted was freedom. Freedom from her stepmother and her overbearing rules. Freedom from a life of constant work with nothing to show for it. Freedom from the sneers and hateful words of strangers who didn’t trust the cyborg girl who was too strong and too smart and too freakishly good with machines to ever be normal.”

I wasn’t especially interested in Scarlet’s story until it began to intertwine with Cinder’s. The ends of the chapters in Cinder were usually so provocative and kept me engaged with the plot and wanting to find out what would happen next, but Scarlet seemed generally slower, with less drama, and those chapter ends just weren’t as sharp and shocking as I remembered from the first book. But I think Scarlet will prove a helpful  friend for Cinder–more helpful than the “Captain” she travels with in Scarlet–and Cinder’s story is growing in an exciting way. Cinder has been more or less freed of her Cinderella constraints by this point, which makes the plot even less predictable and opens up all sorts of new possibilities. She’s largely on her own, she’s growing more powerful, and she’s preparing to stand up for herself against forces of evil. Something great is brewing there, and even though I didn’t love every aspect in the addition of Scarlet’s story, I appreciated how it changed Cinder’s situation and I’m even more interested in what will happen next.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. I think the plot is improving as more characters are added, but the writing style still just isn’t my style. There are so many threads to the story, and it’s fascinating how they all weave together, so I’m hopeful that I’ll still enjoy this series despite my dissatisfaction with the narration.  Although I was occasionally confused in this second volume over which girl was which, the additional main characters did help diversify the plot–this sequel is certainly no repeat of the first book, which is a big plus in any set. It’s still not my favorite series, but I’m even more invested in discovering where Meyer will go with these characters. I’ll certainly be reading on with Cress, probably next month, and I have high hopes that the plot will just keep intensifying.

Further recommendations:

  1. I haven’t finished reading The Raven Cycle yet, and it’s more supernatural than science fiction, but it’s another great YA series with wonderful plot threads and captivating characters. Fans of The Lunar Chronicles will likely also love Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. For my complete review of this book, click here.
  2. You may also enjoy Ransom Riggs’ fantasy series, beginning with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The world building in this series is phenomenal, with great plot twists and characters with myriad connections. If you love the world of The Lunar Chronicles but wish for stronger characters, look no further than Miss Peregrine’s.

What’s next: I’m currently reading the first book in Brent Weeks’ adult fantasy Lightbringer series, entitled The Black Prism. This is another book that fans of the Lunar Chronicles might enjoy, if they’re willing to venture into an adult series featuring magic that comes from light–a science fiction aspect to the fantasy. It’s certainly a hefty read, but it’s not slow and I’ll have a fresh review up for it soon, so stay tuned!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my complete review of the next book in this series, Cress, here!

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