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“She was cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.”

Laugh if you want. I admit to a chuckle upon reading that sentence early on in Cinder, Marissa Meyer’s first novel, a YA SF reboot (sorry, couldn’t resist) of the familiar fairy tale. It’s an inventive adventure, but most of the humor is inadvertent. Meyers immerses readers in the future dystopia of New Beijing, whose teeming population is threatened both by the mind-bending residents of the moon, knows as Lunars, and by a dreadful deadly plague.

So, Cinder has more to worry about than going to the ball and dancing with handsome Prince Kai. And it’s not just because her wicked stepmother won’t pay for a party dress for her, like those being fashioned for her stepsisters Pearl and Peony. Nor is it just because Kai doesn’t realize that the pretty, if grease-stained, teen-age mechanic repairing his android has a steel-plated foot and other non-human parts and wiring.

Cinder is cyborg, which means she has no human rights and is thus vulnerable to being drafted as a guinea pig for palace researchers testing for a new plague vaccine. Once drafted, the “volunteers” are never seen again, much like the human plague sufferers who are quarantined and warehoused.

The exception is Kai’s father, the emperor, who is dying in isolated splendor in the palace. Beware evil Lunar Queen Levana, who comes bearing the gift of a possible antidote. She wants to marry Prince Kai in exchange for the secret. Pity her niece Selene didn’t survive girlhood or she could have rightfully assumed the Lunar throne and set free her enslaved people. Now Levana plans on conquering Earth, starting with New Beijing.

Don’t worry. I’m not giving away anything that Meyer doesn’t within the book’s first 50 pages. And the mash-up plot isn’t Cinder’s strong suit, anyway. That would be the world-building, which is just fantastic, from the crowded market streets of New Beijing, with omnipresent net-screens blaring the latest headlines, to the cold palace labs where doctors use holograms to decipher the exact cyborg make-up and biometric engineering of second-class citizens. Then there are the sophisticated androids, although Cinder’s assistant Iko is a little too girly R2D2 for me.

Cinder is the first of four planned volumes of “The Lunar Chronicles,” so, of course, it ends with some cliff-hanging. Hope my nails last until the sequel. Or I maybe I’ll just get some fancy fake ones.

Open Book: I picked up an advance readers edition of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder (Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan) at SIBA last fall. It’s just one of several new YA books I’ve been reading. Definitely the best cover.

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