Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release date: January 3rd, 2012
Pages: 390
ISBN: 0312641893


A forbidden romance.
A deadly plague. Earth's fate hinges on one girl . . . 
CINDER, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She's reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister's sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen - and a dangerous temptation. Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth's future. This is not the fairytale you remember. But it's one you won't forget.


I will admit from the very beginning that I was wary about reading this book. The synopsis above was one of the reasons why. After all, nowadays, there are a thousand different Young Adult books written within the same formula: outcast girl falls in love at first sight with heartthrob boy, and after a series of mini plot twists they end together in a happily ever after sort of way. A number of such novels has thrown fairytale elements at this ready-made formula in the hopes of creating something new, which, most of them do not. I thought Cinder would be one of such books. I was pleasantly surprised.

The book starts by introducing Cinder, a cyborg girl, who is in the middle of taking off her old, child sized foot in her booth at the Beijing Market, when a customer approaches her. Immediately she recognizes him as Prince Kai, the same prince whom every girl in the Commonwealth dreams of. Aware that she is one of the best, if not the best, mechanic in Beijing, he asks her to fix his personal android. It is not this, however, that makes sure that their lives become entwined (though not, I should say, necessarily in the romantic sense). 

What does lead to it happens after Kai leaves the market. Cinder and her android, Iko, are in the process of placing Cinder's new foot on her when screams erupt from the market. The plague, they realized, had taken away one of the sellers. The same plague that has been killing Eartheans in every continent for years. The same plague that has taken away Prince Kai's mother and is slowly killing his father, the Emperor. This plague is not the only issue which Cinder and the Commenweatlh have to deal with throughout the book, for there is also the lingering threat of an invasion from the Lunars, the people who live on the Moon. And if that is not enough there are issues such as racism and other complications that every society in the course of history has dealt and been dealing with.

In any other book, it would be expected for Cinder and Kai to come upon one another every ten pages, to claim that they had fallen in love by the middle of the book, and to spend the rest of it snogging and whining about their problems. Not one of these things happens. The number of moments shared between these two characters is relatively small, and the love they eventually share (this story is based on Cinderella, after all) is subtle, natural and only brought up when necessary for the plot. It is, in short, a breath of fresh air.

The way the characters are built is also quite refreshing. Not a single one of the characters is flat and not a single one is a walking cliché, not even the "evil stepmother". All of them feel real and like someone you might meet on the street, including the android Iko, who is so humane that it makes it excruciatingly hard to draw the line between what is robot and what is human. 

In terms of writing, Meyer writes in a style that is fluent, rich and simple, making this book engaging, pleasant and easy to read. Another thing I quite enjoyed about it was how witty the dialogue is, and how every character has a very distinct voice. 

The book is not perfect, however, as Meyer is not quite the best at introducing plot twists. I, at least, answered some of the questions the book presented right after they were asked. Yet, I cannot complain very much about this either as, unlike other authors, when Meyer gives a definitive answer those questions, she does not shove the answers down her readers' throats. She does not present her plot twists in a way that it feels like she is unjustly asking to be bowed down to. She presents those answers the same way she does everything else: as something as natural as breathing.

All of this conjugated with the many philosophical questions that Cinder subtly introduces makes it, in my opinion, one of the best fairytale retellings to date. 

The book in a quote

“Imagine there was a cure, but finding it would cost you everything. It would completely ruin your life. What would you do?” 


Battle Royale, by Takami Koushun

Publisher: Ota Shuppan
Release date: April 1999
Pages: 666
ISBN: 4872334523


Battle Royale is a high-octane thriller about senseless youth violence, and one of Japan's bestselling - and most controversial - novels. As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, a group of high school students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one remains.


Rare is the time when I don’t gravitate toward plots involving dystopian societies and death games. At the the beginning of Battle Royale, third year class B from Shiroiwa Junior High is in a bus, heading toward a school trip. Somewhere along the way, the students fall asleep, only to wake up in an unknown school, before an unknown instructor. The class is then told they were chosen for the Government program that happens every year. They all know what that means – once they step out of that room, they’ll be on their own against their classmates, in danger of getting killed at any time.

This is not a revolutionary premise, and it has been reused unmistakably more, as of late. After all, dark subjects and twisted depictions of the human character tend to sell. As such, I believe there’s a lot of places one can go to for many of the things Battle Royale advertises. The thrilling sensation of the predators, the irrational fear of the chased. Violence, for sure, as it’s to be expected. Depending on whom you ask, these factors can either improve the storytelling, or ruin it.

However, there is a unifying factor in this book, one likely to keep both friends and foes of the genre flipping pages; and that is back-story.

While the main characters are Shuya, the star player, Noriko, his best friend’s crush, and to a certain degree Shogo, the mysterious type with a plan, every student gets his time to shine. Without ever leaving third person narration, the author gives you different points of view throughout the book, ensuring each party has a story arc before meeting (or not meeting) their end. And we’re lucky that is so, since one of the most fantastic aspects of this book is how the students come in all shapes and colours. They are the cliché’d jocks, bullies and nerds, sluts and artists, but they are also victims of abuse, loners, freaks, broken hearts, loved ones. And there are ones that go mad from fear as much as there are ones who revel in killing. Even the couples were distinctively different, which ultimately lead them in different directions.

It was surprisingly refreshing to me that having so many characters could be a good tool for controlling the pacing. Make no mistake, it’s hard to write so many characters and write them well, as unfortunately many other stories show. Granted, Mr. Takami's characters are good, but keeping them apart in the reader’s head… that’s tricky. There are too many times the name alone isn't enough, when you’re not sure any more whether this is the girl that went crazy or the other one in a shed. Or a third girl you never even read about before. Regardless of that flaw, the pacing was perfect. Changing point of view, but not every chapter; writing slowly at first, before describing five deaths in a couple of pages. For keeping the tension high at all times, my hat’s off to the writer.

But there’s more credit to him than that. Mr. Takami has a very good skill that was much needed in this kind of novel: good description. And I don’t mean “blood-red sunset”, scenery-directed description. This skill was put in service to fighting, pain and death. After all, there is a lot of that. There are nearly as many causes of death in this book as there are students, so how to make them memorable? How to make them matter more than just passing side-character deaths? He, for one, made them more visual. Drive an axe into someone’s face creating something similar to a red smile in them. Have brains blow, with pink, and mush, and much spraying. Essentially, he painted a movie inside one’s head, so that the readers cringe enough to remember it later on. As they should, if for nothing else, because Shuya remembers. These kids aren't used to seeing death. They don’t have fun with it, they are terrified. So the reader should remember the action as violent, traumatic, scarring.

Still, nothing is perfect. As much as I would have liked to keep up with my praise, there was indeed, one particular aspect which put me off at all times: half the girl characters being in love with Shuya. It felt unrealistic that all kinds of people just happened to choose him as the subject of their affections. As much as he’s the naïve hero of the story, he can’t be everybody’s crush. At the very least, that made him less appealing to me as a reader. He’s nowhere as enriching to the story as, say, Shogo, who’s a bit of an anti-hero. Or Mistuko Souma. More so with Kazuo, the antagonist without whom there would be no fun to the game.

All in all, Battle Royale is incredibly entertaining. Whether you’re looking for a tragic setting, endless action or merely a study of human nature, my opinion is you can find it in this book.

On the comparison with the Hunger games

Just before the Hunger games reached the silver screen, I distinctly remember lots of people drawing comparisons between the two books. There are, without any doubt, more knowledgeable people than me in regard to the Japanese culture, still, with the Japanese death game type in mind and having read the Hunger Games series, I wasn't convinced. As a habit, I completely disregard recommendations based on sentences like “the new Harry Potter” of “For the fans of Tolkien”. They never correspond to the truth. More often than not tagging creates fake expectations that might disappoint the readers later on, resulting in some dropping an otherwise great book. Unfortunately, there are readers that pay attention to that kind of branding, so I would like to give my view on the matter at hand.

Truth be told, if one would narrow the stories down to its innards, it wouldn't be hard to see the resemblance. Both works have a despotic government that uses the game as a way to manipulate the masses. In both books, there’s a main character trying to survive and find a way out of the game. Both games set teenagers against teenagers, and there can be only one survivor. And with the Hunger Games being broadcast publicly and the Battle Royale process being much more secretive, there is some kind of betting system going on in both.

However, I think the people who narrow it down lost track of the feel. The feel is unmistakably different. The Hunger Games is about Katniss and Peeta much more than Battle Royale is about Shuya and Noriko. The latter is, first and foremost, a journey of discovering how a life of death situation changes different students or reveals their inner self. At its core, it is a collection of individual, often unfortunate, life stories. The Hunger Games is a young adult piece, and while I can agree that there’s much more to it than romance, especially as it develops toward book three, the series isn't anywhere close to the violent, gore-centred Japanese heritage.

Nevertheless, there’s something that I like equally in both of them. They show that there are no wars without scars. It is that perception, along with an exciting ride, that makes both these books worth reading.

The book in a quote

“We're supposed to strive for harmony, and that's what the art of tea is supposed to accomplish... but harmony is very, very difficult to achieve in this country. Tea ceremony is powerless. But it's also not such a bad thing either. You should enjoy it while you can.”


A Virus Named TOM

By: Misfits Attic
Where: PC (Steam), Playstation Vita
Category: Action/Puzzle

“Destroying Tomorrow, Today!”

So, it’s a game about a virus, one named TOM apparently. Background check? Sure.
So, Mr. Eccentric Scientist here goes about creating a city of the future for this company called Mega-Tech. Robot dogs, sidewalks that take you wherever you want, special tech suits that change your appearance….that kind of thing. Eventually, his eccentric side gets the best of him, and he ends up creating Globotron, a massive robot that “terminates” anyone who doesn’t use his inventions. Needless to say, he gets fired. “‘How is that even profitable’ they said”.
So, as any “normal” Eccentric Scientist, he decides to take revenge on Mega-Tech. This is where you come in. You are TOM, a green funny looking virus created for the sole purpose of giving those idiots at Mega-Tech a lesson.

Contagious Fun

So, how do we go about ruining everything? Easy. Get TOM inside those gadgets and have him turn those circuits into a mess. All you need to do is to spread the infection (green) to the whole circuit and you’re done! That easy? No.
Ok, so the primary objective is to spread the infection to the entire circuit. To do this you have to rotate each piece in a way so that the infection reaches everywhere. The initial circuits are simple, but as you progress, things get difficult. Circuits keep getting bigger and more complex, enemies are added, your time limit (aka Energy) gets lower….in short, a whole bunch of stuff to make your life harder. Still, all these game mechanics are introduced in intervals over the campaign, giving you time to get used to each one of them.
Each gadget is composed of various levels, and from some point up you will start getting Skips, which you can use to (obviously) skip levels. The level will be considered solved, and once you really DO solve it, you’ll get your skip back!

Endless TOMfoolery

There is also a multiplayer campaign with even more complicated puzzles and an additional game element, this time a barrier, preventing players to cross over to the other player’s half of the puzzle. Some of these require two pieces to be rotated at the same time to succeed, so it takes a bit of practice. Additionally, there is a versus mode where you compete with up to 3 friends (the multiplayer campaign also supports up to 4 players) in a custom sized circuit where each player attempts to capture more squares than anyone else. Of course, you can kill other players and get their squares, turning it into a random pool of death and robotic laughs. There’s also a tons of achievements, some of which pretty hard and global score leaderboards (via Steam). It’s such a shame that there’s no online multiplayer (yes, it’s local, so either you have a couple controllers or I surely hope your keyboard can have 10 keys pressed at the same time).

So, in conclusion, if you like a good interactive kind of puzzle and want a good brain teaser, this might just be what you’re looking for. Difficulty gets pretty crazy further down the road. Even more so if you grab a couple of friends.

The game can be found here: