I love science fiction and I love fairy tales. Both loves go back a long way. All the way, really. Put them together and, if it’s done well, I am the happiest of happy campers. The Lunar Chronicles have such a brilliant concept. Four (yay for quartets) books, each set in Meyer’s fictional and futuristic Earth, each focusing on a heroine from a well-known fairy tale. From Cinder and Scarlet to Cress and the upcoming Winter, I’ve loved the covers, I’ve loved the titles, and I’ve loved the smart and inventive ways in which these stories have had new life breathed into them. I did wish for a little more emotional payoff in the first book, but Cinder herself was such a highlight that there were no questions about whether or not I would be reading the second. Then Ms. Meyer went and wrote Scarlet and launched me into full-fledged fangirl status. I wouldn’t change a single thing about that book, people. Not one. So my anticipation for Cress was just a wee bit on the high side. We get the tiniest of snatches of Cress herself in the first two books, and given how much I loved the first two heroines, I felt pretty sure my love for this orbiting computer hacker would be something of a foregone conclusion.
Cress has spent the last seven years shut up tight in an orbiting satellite. Her solitude is broken only by the occasional terrifying visit from Miss Sybil, the Lunar Queen’s henchwoman sent to monitor Cress. With years and years of nothing but her netscreens to keep her company, Cress not only becomes a considerably talented computer hacker, but she develops a pretty substantial romanticized view of Earth, its inhabitants, and especially the noted rascal Captain Carswell Thorne. Most recently, Cress has been tasked with putting her hacking skills to use tracking down the most wanted Earthen criminal: the cyborg rebel Linh Cinder. Having had her own secret contact with Cinder and her band of motley rebels, Cress is instantly dismayed and sets about working as hard as she can to deflect Queen Levana’s sights from Cinder’s actual location. For their part, Cinder, Wolf, Scarlet, and Iko are careening about space trying to avoid capture and work out a plan to save the world from the encroaching Lunar threat. But Cress can only do so much, trapped as she is. And when Cinder’s ship, the Rampion, is spotted, the two groups are set on a literal collision course. In the aftermath, the dashing and derelict Thorne and Cress herself wind up crashing to Earth in the smoking remains of the only home Cress has ever known. And so it is up to them to trek through the wilderness and try to find their way back to Cinder and Co. in time to stop the unholy wedding of the century before Levana weds Emperor Kaito and closes her wicked fist over Earth for good.
It’s difficult to say I wasn’t enchanted with this one, but that is the bare truth of the matter. It was all set up to be a knockout installment in the series, but nothing. ever. happens. Until the end when the inevitable Rescue Poor Kai mission is finally set in motion and events begin trundling along nicely. But Cress is one thick book (a trait I usually love in novel), and it takes far too long to get to the meat. Most of that time is spent trudging with the hapless Cress and Thorne through the Sahara Desert, an expanse of time and space that could have been put to good use developing their relationship, which naturally had a lot of potential. Instead, it was a numbing eternity of the naïve and incapable Cress mooning over Thorne and wailing at each bump in the road. And Thorne. Wherefore art thou, dude? You were the perfect scoundrel in Scarlet, a delightful combination of Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. But the Thorne of Cress was a watered down buffoon at best. He was given a couple of truly winsome and hilarious lines, a far cry from the leading man I felt justified in looking forward to. Together they lacked all of the spark, paling in comparison to the serious sweetness of Cinder & Kai and the deep swoon of Scarlet & Wolf. It was honestly a relief to be pulled away from their uninspiring exploits to find out what was happening with Cinder and the gang, although I couldn’t help but sigh more than once at how little page time Scarlet and Wolf were given. In that instance, I understand the game is afoot and we must work our way through some plot twists in order to achieve the necessary series climax in the next book. But still. Their relative absence was harsh for this Scarlet-loving girl’s heart.
Romantic subplot(s) aside, I just never engaged with Cress, the book or the character. The creeptastic Levana was all but absent. The exciting and long-awaited knock-down brawl and (hopefully) makeup fest that has been brewing between Cinder and Kai since the end of Cinder was wedged too tightly into the literal last couple of pages. The timing and pacing felt decidedly off in general, uncharacteristically so. I don’t know if the onus of that rests on the fact that Cress herself wasn’t up to the challenge of carrying off a whole book on her own or if it was a dose of third-book syndrome or what. But it was a struggle to finish. I did finish, hoping all the way that meat would grow on the bones before my very eyes. I still like each of the main characters (Cinder’s irrepressible android sidekick Iko made me laugh on more than one occasion), and the glimpse of the certifiably crazy Winter near the end gives me hope for the final installment. But it’s going to have to be one hell of a strong finish to wash the disappointment out of my mouth after Cress. C-