Cress (and the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

I’ve been reading work by Marissa Meyer for over a decade now, I used to read her Sailor Moon fanfiction. So when I learned she was writing a YA SFF book with lunar references and had fairy tale themes (I love fairy tale adaptations), I knew I had to read her books. I read the first book, Cinder, and loved it. Now we’re up to the third book in the four book series, Cress, and it’s holding up just as well as the first.

Each of the books focuses on a different female protagonist taken from famous fairy tales: Cinder is quite obviously Cinderella (with a cyborg foot instead of a glass slipper), Scarlet is Red Riding Hood (where the wolf isn’t necessarily the bad guy), and Cress is Rapunzel (locked in a satellite instead of a tower). Next up will be Winter, who is a black Snow White.

I love the fairy tale twists of the series, but also the clear Sailor Moon references (which itself is very fairy tale-esque) like the missing moon princess, the evil queen who wants to take over earth, the handsome prince who dreams of finding the lost princess, and each of the girls has traits of different Sailor Scouts: Cinder is very Moon, but also very Jupiter with her ponytail and tomboyish nature, Scarlet reminds me of Mars a little bit but she also likes food, which is very Jupiter, and Cress is kinda flighty and dramatic like Venus (with long blonde hair), but also tech genius like Mercury. I can’t wait to figure out which scouts Winter is like.

Cress is a great continuation of the story as it’s already unfolded. The usurper Lunar Queen, Levana, wants to take over earth, so she’s blackmailing the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth into marrying her so she has power. Cinder, the proper ruler of Luna, is on the run from Lenava’s army, while trying to figure out how to save the Emperor, who she has a thing for.

Meanwhile, Cress just wants to be free of her satellite and her “mistress.” Cinder and the gang (Scarlet and Wolf, Iko the awesome, friendly android, and Carswell Thorne–dashing, rogue thief) try to save Cress. Everyone gets separated. Cress and Thorne get knocked off her satellite down to the desert, Cinder and Wolf head to Africa, and Scarlet is kidnapped by the Lunar mistress. By the end, only Scarlet remains separated from the group, but she’s making “friends” with the poor “crazy” Winter, Levana’s step-daughter. The others decide to kidnap Emperor Kai, so that Levana can’t marry him and cement her power on Earth. The group then heads to Luna to begin a revolution, with Cinder as it’s leader and future queen, perhaps.

The books are clever, fun, lighthearted while yet maintaining heart and a heaviness whenever a character has died (once per book at least!). The characters are clear and fun and there are no pesky love triangles distracting us from wanting everyone to be friends (though each of the girls does have a prince and I definitely love that).

(Now that we know that Winter is black, I can’t wait to see what they do with her fairy tale themed cover!)

I fell in love with the first book and had to wait the excruciating year before each next installment. The Lunar Chronicles are one of the few books where I ignore everything–work, tv, the constant distractions of the internet, to plow through the book. It’s rare that books make me read them outside of forced train rides, and I really miss that feeling. I tried to wait as long as I could without reading it, but I haven’t made it longer than two months post-release before grabbing the next installment. While we seem stuck in this endless cold weather, the only two things that can make me ache for “winter” are Game of Thrones and The Lunar Chronicles.

Is it Winter 2015 yet?

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The Golden Hour by Maiya Williams

The Golden Hour was a great page-turner. I started it one night and was halfway through by about 2/3am. I really like time travel and, while the French Revolution isn’t an era of history that I love exploring, Maiya Williams made me able to enjoy it. There was something a bit old school in the style of adventure, very Edward Eager, whose Magic series books I read as a child, involving magic and time.

In the book, Rowan Popplewell and his sister visit their great aunts in a small (fictional) town in Maine. Their mother died a year ago and it’s been rough going. Nina, the sister, doesn’t speak and no longer plays the piano. While there, they meet up with twins, Xavier and Xanthe, who are black (!!!) and the four of them adventure to the local creepy hotel, where Xavier swears he saw ghosts. The aunts, the mysterious characters they are—with their shining new “antiques”—slyly encourage Rowan to visit the hotel, despite his reservations. The hotel turns out to be a portal. Otto, the concierge, doesn’t book stays, he books trips to anywhere in the past, as long as it’s the same day you’re traveling. But you can only travel twice a day, at Golden Hour, the time when the sun is setting and everything is cloaked in golden light, or the sunrise equivalent, Silver Hour. What fun! Rowan is hesitant to go, but Nina, missing her mother and finally breaking out of her shell of depression a little bit, skips off to the hotel in the middle of the night. Rowan thinks he knows where she went, the Enlightenment. Except he got the years wrong and he and Xanthe and Xavier head off to The French Revolution!

They meet a whole host of fictional and historical characters, including Marie Antoinette and Louse XVI. They search all over Paris looking for Nina, getting involved in the Revolution along the way. They realize she’s not even there, but not before making lots of very important people very angry. They skip a few years in the future (too many people trying to visit the French Revolution causes a ripple in time) to their execution. The aunts come to save the day, allowing Rowan, Xanthe and Xavier to escape and land back in the present, only for Rowan to realize where in the past Nina went. NYC 1990. Right before Rowan was born and her parents were happy and alive. She intended to stay with them, to get an extra 14 years with her mother, but Rowan convinces her that it’s not good to live in the past. Together, they can overcome their grief and live in the future.

It’s a sweet story with fun time travel antics. I am, of course, glad that there are two black sidekicks (though I must admit, when I first started the story, I knew there were black characters, but didn’t know they were sidekicks and so I thought Rowan and Nina were black. But slowly the description told me otherwise. And then we met the twins and I realized what was happening). They’re super smart, charismatic and funny, and Rowan has a crush on Xanthe.

Cover of

Cover of The Hour of the Cobra

In the preview for the next book, The Hour of the Cobra, it seems to follow Xanthe’s POV. This makes me happy, as it doesn’t just assume that Rowan is the hero and the twins are his sidekicks. They each get a chance at being the hero. The next book looks like it’s going to ancient Egypt, which is a period I enjoy learning about.

I immediately looked up Maiya Williams and saw that she not only writes children’s books, but also wrote for television! So basically she has my career. I emailed her and she sent me a brief response back that same night, which is really nice of her. One day, maybe I’ll email her again with more specific questions. But I mean, seriously? How crazy is it that she’s a black woman who writes TV and MG SFF books, when that’s what I’m thinking I want to do? Very serendipitous and cool.

This book was great and I am looking forward to borrowing the sequel. I do have a few questions or comments about the book.

  • How do the aunts get stuff back from the past? I thought Otto said that things weren’t allowed to be brought forward, or did he just mean people? The next book seems like it will cover more about the aunts Curio business.
  • I wish Nina had more of slow turn around. She went from not having spoken in a year, to speaking and playing the piano all in one night. I wish we’d gotten more steps before that. It seems like she’s not quite herself still in Rowan’s eyes, but it’s still a bit fast for me.
  • Are the aunts coming to save the day a bit deus ex machina? There are pieces of their involvement mentioned throughout the story, but they suddenly come in to pull the cart leading the kids to their execution away at the very last moment. But I suppose Rowan does do some of the work in saving himself.
Welcome to my first book post! I hope to do more!