Novel * Marissa Meyer * Wolf-Based Dystopia * 2013
Oh, I see what we’re doing here. In Scarlet, Marisa Meyer continues the story she began with Cinder, but mixes it up with a new protagonist based on a new fairy tale. I was alarmed at first, because I thought maybe this meant that Cinder was going to be sidelined while Meyer brings this new character up to speed, but thankfully this is not the case. The new character, Scarlet, shares the stage with the protagonist of the last book. I like Scarlet and all, but Cinder as a character was such a refreshing change of pace for a lead character in a young adult novel that it’s going to be hard to displace her as my favorite. To be fair to Scarlet, though, she is facing something of an uphill battle. After all, Cinder had an entire novel to establish herself and her character while Scarlet basically gets half the time. And as I said, I like Scarlet. She’s a prickly young woman with a strong moral ethic and sense of justice. Also she has a temper and packs heat. She’s extremely loyal to her grandmother and has a thing for bad boys.
In case it’s somehow unclear, Scarlet uses the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale for its framework. Scarlet has a red hoodie that she’s fond of, a grandmother she lives with and loves, and before you know it makes friends with a street-fighter named “Wolf.” The point of these novels is not subtlety, after all. Still, like Cinder before it, there is fun to be had trying to figure out which aspects of the popular fairy tale are going to be used and how. More importantly, from a narrative point of view, it’s just as fun trying to figure out how Meyer is going to subvert these elements in her own story. Obviously, the characters in this novel have more depth and layers than you get in a fairy tale, which rely on flat character tropes in order to impart morality lessons. Early on, when Scarlet meets this scary dude named Wolf, all kinds of red flags go up. Over the course of the story, they stay up. After all, we know how Little Red Riding Hood ends. To her credit, Meyer does some entertaining, unexpected things with their characters that do right both to the fairy tale framework she’s using as well as the world she’s built for her own stories.
While Scarlet is mostly concerned with the novel’s namesake, everything that happens is in service to the overall storyline. Levana, the evil Lunar Queen, is beyond pissed off when she finds out that Cinder managed to escape the prison the first novel left her in. She gives Emperor Kai a hard deadline to recover Cinder or else the war she’s been threatening for years will be happening. Meanwhile, Cinder meets our comic relief character, Captain Thorne, and together they endeavor to get the hell up out of Dodge. Cinder is understandably a bit of a mess throughout this novel. Not only is she being actively hunted by a psychotic Queen, she’s also coming to terms with her own Lunar abilities and destiny. It’s all handled pretty well, and Thorne is a nice addition to balance out the odd occasion where Cinder gets a little intense. She’s still great, though, especially when contrasted with her YA peers.
Scarlet bounces back and forth between the two characters, with the fairly clear intention of bringing them together at some point. As I said, I’m fairly biased toward Cinder’s story because I like her character a little better, but Scarlet has the more action-oriented scenes and her story widens the world that Meyer began building last time out. While Cinder came out of the Eastern Commonwealth, with its kind prince and horrifying involuntary cyborg death draft, Scarlet is from a small French town. We don’t get quite as much world-building this time, maybe because Earth is getting close to being a homogenous population. Regardless, Scarlet’s story is a little more personal. Her beloved grandmother is missing, and Scarlet is freaking out. This sketchy Wolf guy seems to offer a lead to her grandmother’s recovery, so they take a fraught journey in order to seek her out. After that, the story goes some places.
Yo, I ain’t here to think with my own brain. Lucky for me, the publisher has included another batch of ready-made discussion questions. Aww, yeah. Spoilers ahoy.
- In an early chapter, Scarlet defends Cinder from the rude customers at the tavern, and we later learn that Scarlet’s open-mindedness towards Lunars was largely influenced by her grandmother’s attitudes. When it comes to prejudices, do you think people are more influenced by their close friends and relatives, or by society at large? Can you think of any real-world prejudices that are similar to that between the Earthens and the Lunars?
Um, you mean like all of them? I mean, racism and prejudice in general is hard-coded into our species’ DNA, right? Relax, I don’t mean literally, because I’m not a genetic scientist. But it’s pretty clear that the entire world over, one group of people is busy hating another group of people, all throughout history. Maybe this mindset served a purpose at some point – I’m not an anthropologist either – but in our modern world deeply held prejudices seem to do little other than place undue strain on communities. To answer the first question there, a person’s inner circle is always going to provide the most influence, one way or the other. However, the larger society is always there as a sounding board. If the community is unified one way or the other, it’s going to be tough to go against your upbringing. Unless you’re the rebellious type, of course.
- Imagine if you were Scarlet and your grandmother was missing. Would you have followed Wolf when he offered to help you? If not, what would you have done instead?
Hell yeah, he’s hot.
- By escaping from prison, Cinder angered Queen Levana and inadvertently triggered the Lunar attacks. Was she right to escape after Kai had struck a bargain with Queen Levana, trading Cinder’s freedom for ongoing peace? What would you have done in Cinder’s situation? What would you have done in Kai’s?
Man, these discussion questions are really out to try and shame Cinder for living her best life. In the first novel, the questions were judging her for trying to save the only person who was ever nice to her. Here we’re questioning her integrity for saving her own life. Lay off, question writers! Anyway, of course she was right to peace out of jail. Is anyone really trying to tell me that the would-be tyrant is going to be true to her word? Please. It’s been firmly established that no matter what Cinder or Kai does, she intends to rule unopposed. All Cinder’s escape has done is speed up the process that’s already going to happen. Therefore, Cinder has taken the only path that makes any sense. She’s already hated by the public, so her death isn’t going to be a martyr situation. By getting herself out, Cinder gives herself the best chance to not only save her own life, but the entire Earthen way of life. Of course, she has to decide to go ahead and do that, which she eventually does. That said, even if Cinder decided to just disappear, it would be hard to blame her. It’s not like the society she’s going to try and save ever did anything for her.
- Do you think Cinder made the right call in bringing Captain Thorne along with her?
Obviously. He’s a doofus but he’s fun.
- Think about the Louvre and the Palais Garnier in Paris (as opposed to that other, imposter Louvre. You know the one). Why do you think these national sites weren’t restored after World War IV? Are there any historical buildings or landmarks in your area that have fallen into disrepair, and do you feel it’s important for society to preserve these sites?
Weren’t the ruins of the Louvre set aside as a sort of war memorial? That makes sense in a “look what we did” kind of way. As for restoration in general, it’s hard to say. Obviously if you saved every building in every city, nothing would ever change and that’s dumb. Of course, some buildings are more significant than others. It would be weird to visit London and not see the Tower of London, or the Parliament buildings, or what have you. There’s cultural and historical value there. Yet, to get back to London (because frankly I’m not as familiar with Paris), you’ve also got a complete reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. How much does it matter that the building isn’t original? Personally, I think it makes a difference. There’s something about actual, historical buildings which can fire the imagination that’s lacking in reproductions. As for my own area, I’m in the American West and therefore there aren’t that many historical landmarks. The image at the header of my blog is of an abandoned schoolhouse in Portland that has since been torn down. It was in a bad location, though, because otherwise I’m confident McMenamin’s would have turned it into a pub or something, as they are wont to do.
I think that’s going to do it. I don’t really want to get into the whole child solider discussion suggested by the reader’s guide here. Yeesh. Like, it’s bad. Don’t do that. Anyway, these books are good. I look forward to the rest of the series.