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March 21, 2014 / CB

Book Review: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

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Sequels are tricky things.  It seems that they either surpass the predecessor or fall woefully short.  They are either Empire Strikes Back or Grease 2; there’s very little in between.  With the second book of the Lunar Chronicles, however, Marissa Meyer may have found that middle ground.  While I don’t think this installment quite rises to the level of Cinder, it doesn’t fall that far short either.

My biggest complaint (which I will start with, despite the admonitions of writing workshops everywhere) is that Meyer took a step back with her main character.  Scarlet Benoit, our futuristic Red Riding Hood, is well-developed but far too reactionary for my tastes.  She is high-strung, emotional, and pushed into action by the actions of those around her.  Rather than decide her own fate, her choices come as a result of external events, not internal motivations.  In this, she felt entirely too much like Katniss/Bella Swan for my tastes.  The later comparison was not helped, I should note, when she falls for her “wolf.”

Scarlet’s passivity is only heightened by Cinder’s presence in the book.  Most of the plot revolves around Scarlet’s search for her missing grandmother, but the reader also gets updates on Cinder’s escape from prison.  In these chapters, when Cinder’s driving, more dominant personality is on display, the reader becomes that much more aware of Scarlet’s weakness.  I realize that Meyer couldn’t very well create two identical lead characters, but I just wish Scarlet could have made more choices of her own volition.  She shows suggestions of a spine towards the end of the book, but even then, she is still responding rather than leading.

Despite the fact that her name is not on the front cover, Cinder is by far the best part of the story.  Rather than hem and haw over the [MAJOR, BUT KIND OF OBVIOUS, SPOILER FROM THE END OF BOOK 1 REDACTED], she breaks out of prison, finds herself a Han Solo-esque sidekick who is a pretty enjoyable addition, and soon escapes the Eastern Commonwealth aboard a stolen spaceship.  She no longer whines or gives in to self-doubt, but instead seeks answers to the questions of her identity and future actions.  I found those times when Cinder took center stage a welcome relief from Scarlet’s occasional mewling confusion.

A word on the audiobook version here.  Rebecca Soler did a passable job reading the book for Macmillan Audio, but I do think this one would have been better in print.  While many of her voices were quite good, her French accent came and went, and her reading of most action scenes was downright dull.  Where I wanted more pace, she usually slowed, making for a sometimes frustrating experience.

All in all, this book was less successful for me than Cinder.  Neither the story nor the characters stood as strongly on their own merits.  There was, however, enough of the Cinder/Kai/Queen Levana conflict to keep my interest above water.  With the third book already out, I am optimistic of a rebound, although I hope Meyer is not being pressured to write faster than she otherwise would have.  The rush to publish is, I think, bringing about the demise of many a promising YA series.

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