Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.
There’s lots to say about Scarlet, the second book in Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles series, but first and foremost, there’s only this: Wow.
And I mean, holy shit, that is one hell of a sequel to link with Cinder, because it doesn’t just make a brilliant read on its own – it manages to make Cinder better somehow. As in, that is the type of book that should always follow a series opener and in Meyer knows exactly what she’s doing with her writing and where she’s going with her characters. Scarlet perfectly mixes old and new characters, remains suspenseful throughout, and is a dazzling and sophisticated sequel that eclipses Cinder’s storyline, never its characters. In spite of the new arrivals, Meyer stays true to her leitmotif, does so in a balanced manner that never has you favouring this or that character, but always keeps you deeply emerged in each character’s POV. There’s no “favourite child” for the reader in her story, because all of the characters are well rounded one-of-a-kinds that form an outstanding ensemble together.
Scarlet is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, and I love that Meyer didn’t go for the most obvious choice of The Beauty and the Beast for her new characters Scarlet Benoit and Wolf here. Scarlet, who’s shocked to find her grandmother has disappeared abruptly, teams up with Wolf, the new street fighter in town who is on the run from the same cult that has kidnapped her grandmother. While the two journey from the rural town of Rieux to Paris in order to find out more about the reasons behind the abduction, Cinder is busily trying to break out of prison and finding a solution to Queen Levana acting out her tyrant ways against the Earthen Union. As Kai faces his own dilemma concerning whether to stay true to himself or serve his country’s needs in a most dire of situations, Cinder hires a new accomplice – Captain Carswell Thorne – to help with her plan. And that won’t just feature the two of them becoming the most wanted criminals in the galaxy, but also a grand finale that unites all of the characters under culminating plotlines.
It’s funny how well Meyer makes her characters’ names work, undeterred by the fact that we all know the original story they are based on. Both Scarlet and Wolf aren’t just copies, they become new, fully fleshed out interpretations. And holy, Wolf’s entanglement with – and Cinder’s connection to – Scarlet are such highlights of the book, they become the icing on top of the great adventure ride that is Scarlet. What stands out mostly though is definitely the fact that Scarlet, a character that’s very feminine in her ways, nevertheless shows great amounts of strength and loyalty and is never overshadowed by skilled fighter Wolf. I found her to be incredibly persevering; even against all odds, she never buried her head in the sand, even if letting Wolf do all the work and determine what was save or not would have been a viable option. She was sweet and understanding, but could also be bossy and pragmatic in the face of danger.
Along with Cinder, who stood out in her very active badassery (and had amazing chemistry with Thorne and his pretty sweet space-ride), Scarlet put a new twist to the fairy tale aspect of the book. These girls aren’t damsels-in-distress – they’re their own princes in shining armour, their own weapons against the injustices thrown their way by Queen Levana and her Lunar ways, and it was so refreshing to swoon over Cinder and Scarlet more than I did over Wolf and Thorne. Sure, the guys are great characters, but it’s never truly just about romance, because Cinder and Scarlet have goals of their own, and those are bigger than a happily-ever-after with their significant other. Kai and Wolf have their own drama, too, but they failed to show as much resilience, giving in to their insecurities while the girls thrived on them.
Even though Scarlet is full of grim situations, difficult decisions and bitter betrayals, it’s also an around-the-world adventure that features lots of funny dialogue, heartfelt (and never too much) romance, and incredible character growth in all of its leading ladies and gents. It is, in a word, epic.