In January 2012, first-time author Marissa Meyer’s Cinder rocked the YA world, debuting on the New York Times bestseller list and launching a beloved series of fairy tale retellings packed with adventure, romance and political intrigue, and androids.
The Lunar Chronicles series follows teenage cyborg mechanic Linh Cinder, who finds herself caught up in a decades-long feud between the people of Earth and Levana, the evil queen of Luna. Realising that she may be the only person who can, Cinder joins forces with a ragtag group of unlikely allies to put a stop to Levana’s tyrannical reign once and for all.
While the focus of the series is on Cinder’s transformation from a perpetually oil-stained market vendor into a world(s) famous revolutionary, each novel brings a new heroine – and their dashing heroic counterparts – into the mix. Friendships are formed and alliances are solidified as Cinder (Cinderella), Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), and Winter (Snow White)’s lives collide. For Meyer, bringing four such iconic fairy tale women and their stories together was a daunting but exciting prospect.
“There were certainly days when it was a struggle to figure out how to bring different plots together—it was kind of like having four distinct puzzles and trying to mix all the pieces up and come up with a brand new picture when they were reassembled! However, I did a lot of planning before I started writing the series, so I already had a general sense of how the different fairy tales would overlap and intertwine, even before I started writing Cinder. Of course, plenty of things changed during the actual writing of it, but it gave me a lot of confidence from the outset to see that the stories could work together, I just had to move forward and write it!” said Meyer.
Meyer takes her readers on a global adventure, meeting heroines from all walks of life – from the bustling city streets of New Beijing, to small-town life in the south of France, to a tiny satellite orbiting the Earth, to a palace under a city-sized dome on the moon. The international – interworldly – scope of the series is a core part of Cinder’s journey, and it’s something Meyer planned from the very beginning.
“I get annoyed with the idea that North America is the center of the universe, so I didn’t want to set my stories there. I wanted the series to have that global feel, and a sense that all these horrible things that are happening—the spread of letumosis, an impending war with Luna—were things that would affect every human on this planet, not just the people in one small corner of the world. I wanted to show, through media or conversations, that what happened in the Eastern Commonwealth was being discussed in a small town in southern France, or that a planet-wide hunt for an escaped prisoner could have an impact even on a tiny trading town in the north Sahara.”
As for what determined the main locations for each novel in the series, Meyer looked to the original fairy tales for inspiration.
“The earliest recorded version of Cinderella was written in 9th-century China, so Cinder was set in my futuristic version of China. A lot of werewolf stories and mythology come out of rural France, hence that location for Little Red Riding Hood tale. And depending on what version of Rapunzel you read, the witch either casts Rapunzel out into a great wilderness, or a great desert. I went with the latter version, and when I think desert, I think of the Sahara, which is how I got the setting for Cress,” said Meyer.
Though it’s clear that Meyer loves the stories she took inspiration from, not everything made the cut. An early imagining of the series included a futuristic retelling of one of Meyer’s favourite fairy tales, Puss in Boots.
“It very quickly became clear that this needed to be a four-book, not five-book, series, so it got cut early on, but I still love the idea of it. Maybe someday I’ll write a spin-off. Who knows?” Meyer teased.
But the futuristic settings and fairy tale origins of The Lunar Chronicles are only part of what makes this series so appealing; Meyer’s fantastic ensemble cast of characters, their relationships, and their individual storylines are what really make the series so special to its fans. At its heart, The Lunar Chronicles is a story of the friendships, love and loyalty formed between nine people thrown together in difficult circumstances. For Meyer, the decision to make her characters such a diverse group wasn’t a political statement, but a reflection of the world we live in.
“I think diversity is incredibly important for a number of reasons, but I honestly wasn’t thinking about politics or creating great fictional role models or any of that when I started writing the books. Rather, for me, I wanted the books to feel as authentic and realistic as possible. And as we know, the world is not made up of white people. So from the beginning I felt it would be ridiculous to have a large cast of characters in this series and for all of them to be white. It just didn’t feel natural,” said Meyer.
When they’re not too busy running for their lives, Meyer’s heroines are falling in love, discovering hidden talents and realising their full potential. The rags to riches storyline of Cinderella plays out through the romance between Cinder, a cyborg and lower-class citizen, and Prince Kai, heir to the Eastern Commonwealth, and the prejudices Cinder faces as a cyborg in her world are an important part of her character development throughout the series.
“Social commentary is rarely something that I’m thinking of consciously as I write. For me, the focus is always on telling a story that is entertaining and exciting, and hopefully on writing engaging characters that the reader can relate to. But I did know from the beginning that there would be real-world parallels between cyborgs and different prejudices we see today or have seen throughout history. It was important to me to capture the prejudice against Cinder in a way that felt believable and would place a clear distinction between her and Kai, in the same sort of way that Cinderella was in such a lower place, socially, than the prince. And of course, throughout the series Cinder proves that this ‘weakness’ that she’s supposed to be ashamed of, actually gives her a lot of strength and adaptability. That’s the sort of thing that I hope all readers can connect with in their real lives.”
Her debut series may be over now, but there’s far more to come from Meyer. With Heartless, a stand-alone novel which tells the origin story of Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts coming this November, Wires and Nerve, the first of two Iko-centric Lunar Chronicles graphic novels scheduled for release early next year, and a Lunar Chronicles colouring book also hitting the shelves in 2017, Meyer’s fans have plenty to look forward to.
“I’m having a ton of fun writing [the graphic novels]and hope the fans will enjoy seeing all their favorite characters again in a brand new story,” said Meyer.
To celebrate the end of our Lunar Chronicles readalong, we’re giving away one paperback copy of Cinder, plus Winter buttons! Fill out the form below to win a copy of Cinder by Marissa Meyer and Winter buttons. Giveaway prizes donated by Macmillan. Open to entrants in the U.S. only. Void where prohibited.