book reviews / fairy tale / humor / sci fi

Book Review: Cress

The Lunar Chronicles, Book 3

Marissa Meyer

Sci fi/Fairy tale

BEST. RESCUE. SCENE. EVER.

If you have no other reason to read Cress, this scene would justify it. A damsel in distress is held prisoner by a crazed wolf-man, a hero rushes through the hallway shouting her name, and then—

Oh, I so want to tell you, but I can’t. Suffice it to say I laughed so hard I fell over. It was hilarious, unexpected, touching, and completely in character.

Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles just keeps getting better and better. As she adds more characters, you’d think you’d get lost. Instead, the action is both more exciting and madcap in this, the third book. The emotional range is broader. The characters are more in focus. The stakes are higher. And the pacing is cinematic.

Each book focuses on a fairy tale couple, transposed into a sci fi world where war threatens to break out between Earth and the Moon (if a plague doesn’t kill off the inhabitants of Earth first). This time, our heroine is Rapunzel. Only her name is Cress. (Meyer makes some beautiful puns. Cress is a leafy green, just like the leafy greens (rampion) Rapunzel’s father steals in the original tale.)

Cress is also short for “Crescent Moon,” a common Lunar name.

image by Photokanok at freedigitalphotos.net

image by Photokanok at freedigitalphotos.net

She lives isolated in a satellite instead of a tower, where she’s the most brilliant hacker for the evil Lunar queen, Levana.

The parallels go on, but never quite how you expect, which is the great fun of this series.

Rebecca Soler’s reading of the audiobook version is especially effective. Her work in the prior two books of the series is good, but she really knocks the ball out of the park and to the Moon in this one. Scarlet’s French accent is stronger and sassier. Cinder the cyborg mechanic princess revolutionary is spunkier.  And Soler’s comic timing plays beautifully with our main fairy tale couple, Cress and Thorne.

Oh, Captain Carswell Thorne, how do I describe thee?

Flynn Rider meets Han Solo.

Even though Thorne’s cockiness amused me in Book 2, it’s playing him against Cress that really makes him my favorite character in the series. Because they bring out both the most zany and empathetic qualities in each other.

Cress has been isolated in a satellite for 7 years, with nothing to do but hack computer systems, follow celebrity gossip, design her own computer personalities (based on herself) and then play video games with herself, and do Country Western music exercise videos. Her only social interaction is with a powerful thaumaturge Sybil (i.e. the Witch).  Sybil visits only to pass along new assignments from the evil queen and tell Cress her parents hated her for her lack of Lunar mind-control powers. It’s no wonder Cress has a skewed vision of reality.

Yet hers is a strangely resilient and sweet personality. And hers is an active, brilliant, and creative mind. She’s learned to outwit her own captors, and has been secretly helping Cinder, our lost Lunar princess, dodge detection. In the meantime, she dreams up grandiose rescue stories.

The prince character from the original Rapunzel tale is split into two people in Meyer’s story. Cinder adds the royal element to the rescue party. But our romantic interest, and the guy the Witch chucks from the tower, why, that’s criminal mastermind, Carswell Thorne.

The fun in their relationship is that Cress has an (understandably) vivid fantasy life, and she’s naïve. She has researched Thorne on the netscreens and thinks she is destined for an epic romance with this “misunderstood hero.” Our cheeky rogue alternately feeds into this fantasy and dashes it.

The brilliance is that we the readers, like Cress, want to believe Thorne is really a misunderstood hero.  Thorne himself wants to believe it. It takes being stranded in the wilderness after their fall from the heavens to test and forge their characters. Their satellite lands in a desert.  Thorne is blinded (as per the fairy tale). Cress is in a completely alien environment where her computer hacking skills are useless.  She is ill-prepared and overwhelmed by her own inexperience. Even the broad blue sky is terrifying. She doesn’t even own shoes.

Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The chapters upon chapters in which the two trudge through the wasteland against almost impossible odds, supported only by each other, may drag for some readers.  I found them riveting and deeply psychological.  I think it depends on whether you are a Frodo/Sam fan or an Aragorn fan.  If you’re an Aragorn fan, you skip to the part of Lord of the Rings where the battles take place.  So you’d be more into Cinder plotting to break into the palace and lead a rebellion. But if you are a Frodo/Sam fan, you’ll feel that oppressive weight and forging of a bond as two small characters struggle to put one foot in front of the other.

And unlike Sam and Frodo in Mordor, the conversations between Cress and Thorne range from aching and philosophic to pragmatic and hilarious. Cress at times would be content to waste away in epic tragedy. She’s a romantic. And just at the right moments, Thorne crashes her fantasy life with some utterly unheroic comment and gets them moving forward again. They need each other to survive these chapters. By believing Thorne is a hero, Cress makes Thorne want to live up to her expectations. He knows more about how to pace themselves and conserve water in the desert. He needs her as his eyes. And her wonder at this new world around her forces Thorne to see (poetically) past his own cynicism. They are a comic and utterly charming pair. They are good for each other.

Definitely they are my favorite couple in The Lunar Chronicles.

Cinder and Prince Kai have spent far too much time apart, so the bond we felt between them in book 1 is starting to wither. I will say the gender role reversal Meyer plays with here is a lot of fun. It’s the girl who’s going to rescue the guy from a bad marriage. And how she does it—oh, just wait. But Kai does far too much moping in books 2 and 3. I really hope we see him be active in book 4.

Scarlet and Wolf don’t have much of a chance to develop their relationship in book 3, either. They are separated by distance (won’t spoil why), and Wolf’s obsession with Scarlet borders on creepy.

The subplot with the complex Dr. Erland is perhaps the most moving in the book.

Even Iko the gossipy android-turned-into-a-ship has her own story arch.

I cannot wait to find out how Meyer resolves this sci-fi-fairy-tale-action-comedy tangle. And I’m especially excited to hear more from a character Meyer introduces very late in the book: Queen Levana’s stepdaughter, Winter. Who is, pardon the pun, one loony Lunar.

One premise for Cress might be, What makes a hero? We ask it of Thorne, of Cress, of Cinder. I even asked it of Dr. Erland. And they all grow as they ask it of themselves.

I give Cress 5 out of 5 (stars, of course. It’s a space book.)

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