A cyborg Cinderella flees a royal ball, leaving behind not a slipper, but an entire foot. A smart, tough Red Riding Hood fights to protect her Grandmother from lupine super-soldiers. A hacker Rapunzel is locked away in a satellite, forced to spy on the enemies of her evil captor. A beautiful and kind Snow White struggles to hold on to her sanity in the court of her cruel, jealous step-mother. And a plague-ridden Earth balances on the point of war with their Lunar neighbors, who covet Earth’s resources, and promise a cure to the disease ravaging Earth’s population.
Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series are the fairy tales you love, in space! And updated with smart, strong heroines who do as much fighting, problem-solving, and rescuing as their male counterparts do. If I had a daughter, these are books I would delight in sharing with her, and role models I would be happy for her to emulate.
The series is set far enough in the future that humans who colonized the moon have experienced evolutionary divergence from Earth humans; they have developed a psychic ‘gift’ that allows them to manipulate both their own appearance, and the actions of others. They have the powers of glamor and mind-control over each other and all Earthens. A small portion of the Lunar population is born without the gift, which makes them also immune to the powers of others; these “shells” are condemned to death by law, after a shell assassinated the parents of the current of queen. More recently, a mysterious, swift-moving, and fatal disease called “letimosis” has reached plague status on Earth.
The first book is Cinder, a story about a girl who lives with her cruel stepmother and step-sisters, who mistreat her because of her cyborg parts. As a child, Cinder barely survived the hovercraft accident that killed her parents; she’s nearly half robot now, with a prosthetic arm and leg, and a very useful computer in her brain. The kindly man who adopted her unfortunately succumbed to letimosis soon afterward, leaving Cinder alone with her resentful stepmother.
Cinder is also a talented mechanic, and one day, the Crown Prince of the Eastern Commonwealth comes to her market stall in disguise, with an android for Cinder to repair. Sparks fly (hah!), and soon Cinder is caught up in political intrigue. Queen Levana of Luna is pressuring Kai into a marriage alliance with a promise to deliver the letimosis cure her scientists are developing, and the threat of war with Luna if he doesn’t agree. Cinder discovers evidence of a much more nefarious plot, and by the end of the novel, she’s a fugitive from both Earthen and Lunar authorities.
In Scarlet, Cinder’s search for clues to her true identity takes her to the South of France, looking for a woman who might have answers about Cinder’s past. She arrives to discover the woman has been missing for weeks, and her granddaughter Scarlet in a frenzy of concern about her. Scarlet is accompanied by a rough character, the hulking yet handsome Wolf, who’s keeping a low profile after falling out with his “gang”. The Pack, it turns out, are a unit of Lunar super-soldiers, one of many secretly planted around Earth, awaiting the signal to start a war. Cinder, Scarlet, Wolf, and the roguish pilot Thorne–on the run for his own reasons–escape as the simmering war between Earth and Luna boils over into open conflict.
In Cress, we meet the mysterious hacker who has been helping our heroes–a lunar shell, taken from her parents as an child and imprisoned in a satellite. With little else to do, and left entirely alone except from occasional visits from her captor, Cress learns all she can about the technology around her. She is forced to use her tech skills to spy, hating her captor and looking for a way to escape. She makes contact with Cinder and helps her elude capture; when Cinder learns about Cress’ situation, she resolves to rescue her. The team succeeds, but at a cost: Scarlet is captured and Thorne blinded. (I love how Meyer transformed details from the original stories to fit in her futuristic world. Thorne, Cress’ “prince”, is blinded in the crash of their ship after her rescue–as was the prince who fell from Rapunzel’s tower. And then they wander around in a desert for a bit!)
Winter brings them all together to stop Levana and her wicked machinations once and for all. Winter is the step-daughter of Queen Levana, widely beloved for her kindness and admired for her incomparable beauty. Winter refuses to employ her psychic gifts, and doing so is slowly driving her insane; she has frequent, violent hallucinations and a tenuous grasp on reality. Nevertheless, she is resolved to help Cinder and her allies in their bid to overthrow Levana, end the war with Earth, and get the letimosis cure to all who need it. This becomes even more important when the disease mutates, and formerly-immune Lunars start succumbing to it.
I loved the characters in these books so much; they’re fun, interesting and complicated. These aren’t pretty, perfect cartoon princesses; they’re human teenagers, with faults and fears and limitations. They make mistakes, they stumble, they fall; their nobility is in they way they rise again, and keep fighting. They are beautiful, yes, but more importantly, they are all smart and brave, each in her own way–Scarlet and Cinder are physically bold and engage in combat; Cress is more timid, yet resolute, and Winter, the frailest princess, displays an astounding moral courage. These fairy-tale princesses are worthy role models for young readers, and the series is great entertainment for readers of any age.