Review: Cress

This is the Lunar Chronicles book I was waiting for. I’ve heard a lot of love for this series, but Cress, the third book in the set, is the first one that really hooked me in the way I’d been hoping Marissa Meyers’ books would. This will be a spoiler-free review of Cress, but I’ll be assuming you’ve already read the previous two books. If you need a refresher, you can check out my complete reviews of Cinder and Scarlet with these links.

About the book: Cinder and crew are devising a plan aboard the Rampion to thwart Queen Levana. They are able to contact Cress with the D-COMM chip again, and communicate with her about evidence against Levana that Cress has gathered from aboard the satellite where she is imprisoned. Things never go as planned, of course, and in this case the consequences leave Cress more vulnerable than ever. In fact, as Cinder scrambles for a plan that will aid everyone’s specific ailments and counter a myriad of unforeseen predicaments, it seems that everyone aboard has some reason to suffer and must find the strength to persevere for the ones they love and the causes they believe in. With the royal wedding drawing near, Cinder is also growing more desperate to free Emperor Kai from his impending marriage, and Kai is growing more desperate to find Princess Selene, whom he hopes will be able to save them all. Theirs isn’t the only unconventional romance, however. Cress meets Earthens for the first time in her life, and can hardly help falling in love…cress

” ‘Do you think it was destiny that brought us together?’ [Cress asked.] He squinted and, after a thoughtful moment, shook his head. ‘No. I’m pretty sure it was Cinder. Why?’ […] ‘I… I had a crush on you, before we even met, just from seeing you on the netscreens. I used to believe that you and I were destined to be together, someday, and that we would have this great, epic romance.’ One eyebrow ticked upward. ‘Wow. No pressure or anything.’ She squirmed, her body was vibrating with nerves. ‘I know. I’m sorry. I think you might be right, though. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as fate. Maybe it’s just the opportunities we’re given, and what we do with them. I’m beginning to think that maybe great, epic romances don’t just happen. We have to make them ourselves.’ “

Like the previous books, in Cress the reader is given multiple 3rd person views into the lives of the characters, divided by chapters. Unlike other books though, this one seemed to switch perspectives with nearly every chapter, and there seemed to be many more primary characters in this volume. In the past, we’ve had a few primary characters and more secondary characters who may appear in close narration but seem less vital to the story. In Cress, every character is a crucial piece to the puzzle, and the narration weaves between them in a way that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next–except the next chapter picks up a different thread of the story. In a way, this back-and-forth narration is what I had been looking for in this series and I was so glad to see it here. There were cliff-hanging endings between chapters narrated by different characters, which is a fun concept within a book and was actually the element that most drew my attention in Cinder.

However, it did become a little exhausting and frustrating to be left wanting more at the end of every chapter. I never felt like I was catching up with the story; there was always so much more dangling ahead, and honestly I still felt that a bit at the end of the book. The transitions were a little jarring, and it was harder to capture resolution with this format, but it did keep me pushing forward through the story, and kept me engaged with all of the main characters. I hope we see more of this style in the final books (although technically there are four main novels in this series, I’m going to read Fairest next, which is a sort of companion book that was published between Cress and the official fourth Lunar Chronicles book, Winter).

Best aspect: unlike my initial impressions of Scarlet, Cress features characters that feel unique and separate from one another. Each character here has their own plot line, and suddenly they’re all equally interesting. Cress has one of the most interesting backstories we’ve seen yet, and her romance is solid while the others work through expected (Cinder and Kai) and unexpected (Scarlet and Wolf) logistical difficulties. The characters have grown in this novel. Their personalities remain consistent, but they’re stronger, they branch out on their own endeavors more easily, but they also work more smoothly as a team than we’ve seen so far.

Worst aspect: I can’t say that it’s grammatically incorrect, but something about the writing style in this series grates my nerves on a minute level rather than a structural one, especially in the sections that have more exposition than action. I think part of the problem is that the reader is often given explanations twice–first when a character discovers something, and then again when the character is finally ready to talk about it. This seems like a typical order of operations, but in a book this long it seems unnecessary to be reading the same discovery both when one character makes it and when they decide to share it. A faster pace and a little more hinting rather than overkill explanation would really help the writing style fade into the background where it belongs. It’s not exactly written poorly, but there are sentences that sound awkward, and I never think, “Oh yeah, great word choice there,” which is usually something I notice frequently in books. I like that this world has its own vocabulary for its futuristic devices and ways of life, but something about the narration makes these books feel unpolished to me. I realize this is probably no more than a personal disconnect with the author’s writing style, but it’s the thing that keeps almost turning me off of these books, so I thought it was worth a mention. Even in Cress, where the structure and plot have finally reached their full potential, I couldn’t completely look past my dislike of sentence wordings.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I clearly still have some hesitancy about the writing style, but this volume is a definite improvement on all counts compared to the first two books. The plot threads introduced in the first two books are finally all coming together in an exciting way that makes each of the characters and their connections so much more interesting. I’m much more excited about carrying on with this series than I have been, and I’m looking forward to delving into both Fairest and Winter in the upcoming month. I’m hoping it’ll keep going uphill from here and this series will morph from good to great. Keep an eye out in December for my final thoughts on the Lunar Chronicles.

Further Recommendations:

  1. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy is a great dystopian interplanetary choice for readers of the Lunar Chronicles who like the plot and world of Cinder and her friends but, like me, wish a different sort of writing style could portray them. In Red Rising, society is divided unfairly into a hierarchy of colors, and Darrow, a lowColor, is ready to rebel against the evil Sovereign of Luna. You can find my complete review of this book here.
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is another YA fantasy novel with great characters and a unique world that fans of the Lunar Chronicles will likely enjoy. If you haven’t yet read about the faeries’ war against yet another evil self-elected “queen,” you should check it out. You can find my complete review of this book here.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading another mid-series YA book, one I’m even more excited about than the remainder of the Lunar Chronicles: Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves, the second book in the Raven Cycle. The top-notch writing drew me in immediately, but as usual with a sequel, there are some notable changes in the storyline. Expect another scintillating Stiefvater review soon!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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

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