My romance group read CINDER for our Science Fiction Romance theme read, and it was such a hit that a number of us decided to go ahead and group read the sequel, SCARLET, as well. I'm always super leery when it comes to hyped-up YA books - especially retellings with shiny covers, because 9 times out of 10 I end up not liking them - but CINDER was such an unexpected delight that I, too, was eager to read the sequel.
SCARLET beings where CINDER ends, but with a new character named Scarlet taking the lead. Unlike the last book, which is set in Beijing, this book is set in the French countryside. Scarlet delivers produce while she looks for her missing grandmother, and on one of these excursions she meets a mysterious brawler named Wolf. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that her grandmother's disappearance has some sinister implications and that Wolf, who she finds more attractive than she should, might have something to do with her disappearance in the first place.
At the same time, Cinder is breaking free from jail with a Captain (who I think is American) named Thorne. They're flying around in a spaceship that has Iko's chip in it, so picture a gabbing, gossiping, super-happy spaceship being piloted by people who are grim and on the run, and you get an idea of what that's like. Kai, meanwhile, is in Beijing, and spends his time between mooning after Cinder and making the same damn mistakes that he made in the first book. I felt sorry for him in the first book because he was naive and didn't know any better, but what do they say about fooling you twice? I no longer feel sorry for Kai. He's hot, but man, is he incompetent. Epic fail.
Part of the reason I liked CINDER was because it really let me get to know the heroine, CINDER. I wasn't sure about her in the beginning, but then I began to sympathize with her and by the end, I really admired her resourcefulness. SCARLET wasn't like that - it has way too many characters crammed into it. Just when we, the readers, finally got an opportunity to get to know Scarlet, Cinder & co. barged in to steal the limelight. The end result is that Cinder's arc is further refined, whereas Scarlet's storyline is just kind of crammed in there, so she never really graduates beyond shouty, immature dolt, and her love story comes across as super rushed and insta-lovey.
I liked Wolf, but I think that's because his conflict is so much more traumatic and apparent. It's so awful what's been done to him. In one of Levana's POVs towards the end, you really understand why he's so F'd in the head, and it's really, really sad.
I'd read further in the series, but at this point, I have to say that SCARLET is not as good as CINDER at all. CINDER shocked and delighted me, even though it was cliche and part of the reason it did this so well is because the storyline is relatively simple and easy to follow. SCARLET, on the other hand, sets out to accomplish way too much, with way too many characters, and ends up accomplishing far too little. The action doesn't even pick up until about 100 pages to the end, and while that may be acceptable in 900-page behemoths like OUTLANDER or GAME OF THRONES, it isn't at all, here.
P.S. Iko is my favorite.
3 out of 5 stars