by Marissa Meyer, 2013
If you’ll recall, I wasn’t terribly impressed when I last left The Lunar Chronicles. Sure, I liked Cinder well enough, but I failed to see what everyone was raving about and found it a tad boring and predictable. I’m happy to say that, although it suffers from problems of its own, Scarlet is a much better imagined and realized retelling of a classic fairy tale.
With her ever-present red hoodie and flowing red locks, Scarlet Benoit is a no-nonsense teenager who isn’t afraid to kick some ass when her former military pilot grandmother mysteriously goes missing. Scarlet idolizes the woman who raised her and will stop at nothing to find her and make sure she returns home safely. Joining her on this mission is Wolf, an intriguing trained fighter who she finds letting off his excess kinetic energy in back-alley-style brawls. Scarlet can no doubt take care of herself, but when she realizes that there may be a connection between the tattoo Wolf brandishes on his arm and the men who took her grandmother, she quickly recruits him to be the sidekick in her dangerous endeavor.
Now, obviously the source material here is Little Red Riding Hood and Meyer has taken some distinct creative liberties. I actually really liked the way she deviated from the script, making Scarlet into a far stronger young woman than the easily fooled girl we usually think her character to be. What I did not like – what I hated – is that, as in apparently all young adult stories, she forces Scarlet into a hasty and ill-advised romance with her male companion because, as we all know, men and women cannot just be friends (or even partners in reconnaissance). Now, I suppose if the dude looks like a combination of Conor McGregor and a young Hugh Jackman, as I pictured Wolf to be, I can understand the inclination somewhat, but honestly, Scarlet, you met this guy yesterday and you know absolutely nothing about him. How about making some wiser choices, okay?
That aside, I really enjoyed how Meyer alternated between Cinder’s story and Scarlet’s until the two inevitably converged. Here we see Cinder’s continued efforts to escape prison and evade Queen Levana, with the addition of her own male sidekick who, thankfully, provides some excellent comic relief. (I can’t help but think that Meyer’s portrayal of him as a daft bro who thinks all the Ladies Love Cool Thorne is an intentional commentary on hypermasculinity. One can hope.) Perhaps because there is less of a storyline to adhere to with Little Red Riding Hood and Cinder had already deviated quite a bit from its source, I found this chapter in the series to be less disappointingly predictable than the first. I don’t think Meyer’s writing is particularly nuanced or, indeed, beautiful, but I’ll hand it to her that she has a knack for creating future worlds where women get to be unapologetic badasses. If only she didn’t feel the need to conform to heteronormative stereotypes in the process.