Usually the YA debuts that get the most hype and the huge marketing campaigns let me down with flippant cruelty, but fortunately Cinder was not one of those. It succeeded, for the most part, as a futuristic fairy tale reimagining with science fiction overtones. The main complaint I had was with various bits of the setting not being satisfactorily sketched out.
The story was very well-paced, with a lot of action but not GO GO GO from start to finish. The piecing together of the mysteries (Levana, Princess Serena, the plague, etc) was really great and suspenseful.
Cinder and Kai, the protagonists, were both engaging, likeable, and fairly unique for YA-love-duos. My favorite thing about Cinder was her straightforward practicality and tendency to prioritize. She doesn’t over-emote, but we still empathize with her and know how she’s feeling, which is a really hard balance to accomplish. As for Kai, I loved his capacity to snark, no matter who he’s dealing with, and his potential as a leader. It’s rare to get a prince or princess that not only has a good heart but also knows his way around Teh Politics, you know?
Of the supporting characters, Dr. Erland was the best and most interesting. I kinda want an entire novel of him and Cinder sassing each other, but ah well. His role in the plot/subplots was believable but still surprising. The rest of the supporting characters seemed to blend into the vague background of the setting for me, or just frustrate me, like Cinder's sisters. They were so close to having actual personalities, but then didn't quite make it.
I felt the same way about the setting. There was just enough of it to hold itself together, and tantalize me horribly, but didn't make itself real as a place and time. It also kinda annoyed me that Cinder, the non-native, turns out to be the "special" one. But that could be an entire post, hahhhh.
I gave Cinder four out of five stars for being an enjoyable, engaging, but not fully-fleshed-out story. I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.