Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother has been missing for nearly three weeks. After her pleas to the police are largely ignored, Scarlet resigns herself to focus on the responsibilities at her family’s farm—tending to chickens and selling vegetables at gossip-leaden bars in her small town of Rieux, France. When selling the vegetables, Scarlet suffers under endless taunts from the Rieux townsfolk, all who claim her grandmother to be as crazy as Cinder Linh— the cyborg girl known to have challenged the Lunar Queen Levana. Scarlet finds herself surprisingly defended by a strange man new to the town: an underground fighter is known simply as Wolf. As the two continue to cross paths, Wolf reveals an estranged connection to the gang which kidnapped Scarlet’s grandmother. Desperate to find her grandmother, Scarlet must choose to trust a man connected to the kidnapping, or else never see her grandmother again.
On another part of the globe—in the prison of the Eastern Commonwealth—Cinder is now a disgrace across her nation. Cinder becomes partners with felon Captain Thorne, and the two manage to flee with a spaceship. In hiding the fact Cinder is the lost Lunar Princess Selene—the only royalty savvy enough to overthrow the bloodthirsty Queen Levana—Cinder must decide whether to understand and accept her past or run away from it. As Queen Levana sends wolf-mutants to wreak havoc upon the world, her hold on the Eastern Commonwealth grows ever stronger. Cinder’s outlook on her past may decide the world’s future.
Scarlet continues the sci-fi rendition of the Cinderella story. The story maintains the intricate and clever character development among the characters Cinder Linh, Emperor Kai, and Queen Levana. Meyer also works through the perspectives of new characters Scarlet and Wolf, thereby managing to interweave another Brother’s Grimm fairytale: Little Red Riding Hood. Myer bases the characters on classic stories that a wide spectrum of readers already know. However, Meyer eloquently twists these original tales into a unique narrative of space operatic scale. What results is a set of classic tales so twisted and surprising readers will be kept on the edge of their seats.
Scarlet continually shifts between the perspectives of a multitude of characters. Cinder and Scarlet, as the main characters of the Lunar Series books one and two, are focused upon the most in Scarlet. However, even minor characters like Captain Thorne, Emperor Kai, Wolf, and even the Queen Levana have chapters from their point of view. By giving switching the character’s point of view, Meyer’s is able to transport the reader across the globe according to where, and when, each source of the action takes place. In doing so, Mayer effortlessly sutures the worlds of Cinder and Scarlet together, while also creating an intensely detailed and complex narrative world. Additionally, the shifting perspective of the narration gives readers room to consider the motivations of each character individually, allowing a clearer picture of the compelling politics at play.
While Scarlet may not be suitable for younger middle-grade readers due to its, occasionally intense, descriptions of violence and torture, the narrative is sure to be a captivating start for any mature YA readers interested in stepping into the realm of sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Enough of the narrative from Cinder is explained so readers can pick up Scarlet and be able to easily navigate the world that Meyer describes. (Though of course, starting the Lunar Chronicles from the beginning is still recommended!)
It is also refreshing to find a narrative so heavily lead by two strong female characters. Both Cinder and Scarlet are self-assured and formidable forces who have the ability to handle the intensity of split-second, world-determining decisions. By so confidently and intently working to learn from their past turmoil and losses, Cinder and Scarlet show readers how one can still hold their own agency even during the times when the pressure of the world seems heavy. In Scarlet, Meyer encourages readers to look towards their past, not as something dreadfully out of their control, but as something they have the freedom to sculpt how they wish— even from where they stand in the present. Readers who enjoy the Luna Chronicle should also read the Chemical Garden Series by Lauren DeStefano and the Tin Star Duology by Cecil Castellucci.
- When discussing Cinder, a customer at the Rieux Tavern says, “I think she’s kind of cute, pretending to be all helpless and innocent like that. Maybe instead of sending her back to the moon, they should let her come stay with me?” After this comment, another customer replies by saying, “No doubt that metal leg of hers would make for a real cozy bedmate!”
- When speaking to the fighter about potentially offering him a farmhand job in exchange for food, Scarlet jokes, “After seeing the evidence of your appetite in there, I think I’d lose my shirt with a deal like that.” She then flushes, thinking, “no doubt he was now imagining her with her shirt off.”
- Carswell Thorne, a current prisoner of New Beijing, recalls convincing a guard to lend him a portscreen (a touchpad of sorts), but concedes that, “this would not have succeeded if the guard wasn’t convinced he was an idiot, incapable of doing anything other than counting the days and searching for naughty pictures of ladies he’d known and imagined.” Thorne then thinks, “he sure did appreciate the suggestively naughty, if heavily filtered, pictures.”
- Noticing Scarlet holding Wolf’s arm, the announcer in the center of the illegal fighting ring smirks and says, “Looks like the wolf has found himself a tender morsel tonight.” The fighter next to him—the one preparing to fight Wolf, claims, “Think I’ll be taking that one home after I’ve destroyed dog-boy’s pretty face!”
- Upon reaching Captain Thorne’s stolen ship, Cinder notices that the “seal of the American Republic had been hastily painted over with the silhouette of a lounging naked lady.”
- After hopping on board a train, Scarlet kisses Wolf. After she pulled away, “Wolf buried one hand into her mess of curls and kissed her back.”
- When Ran catches Scarlet trying to escape from the Queen’s Special Forces, he says, “If it wasn’t such a repulsive thought, I might take advantage of you here, now that we’re all alone . . . just to see the look on my brother’s face when I told him about it.”
- When discussing her grandmother’s disappearance, Scarlet describes how she found her grandmother’s ID (a person’s identification embedded typically inside the arm), “wrapped in cheesecloth spotted red from her blood and left like a tiny package on the kitchen counter.” While detectives attribute this to Scarlet’s grandmother cutting the ID from her arm herself, Scarlet accuses a kidnapper of doing so.
- Speaking on the news of Cinder at the royal ball in the Eastern Commonwealth, a tavern regular named Roland says, “They [the royal guards] should have put her out of her misery when she fell on those stairs… I’d have put a bullet right through her head. And good riddance.”
- Many of the customers at The Rieux Tavern argue with Scarlet about the fact that Cinder, “should be executed,” for trying to kill a Union leader.
- The tavern crowd’s jeers towards TV footage of Cinder at the royal palace, Roland says, “We all know crazy runs in [Scarlet’s] family. First, that old goose [Scarlet’s grandmother] runs off, and now Scar’s defending Lunar rights!” In response, Scarlet “was suddenly halfway over the bar, bottles and glasses scattering, her fist connecting with Roland’s ear.” Scarlet then grabs the front of Roland’s shirt. Scarlet “shoved Roland hard with both hands,” causing him to stumble. When Roland threatens Scarlet, a fighter from the back of the tavern grabs him by the neck, “lifting him clear off the floor.” The fighter chokes Roland until other tavern guests convince him to let go. This scene is described four pages.
- It is noted that Scarlet keeps a small pistol strapped to her lower back, just in case, “a stranger will want to take you somewhere you don’t mean to go.”
- Scarlet’s father breaks into her grandmother’s house, in order to rifle through her grandmother’s things. Trying to stop him, Scarlet grabs her father’s arm, and then notices, “The skin was covered in burn marks. Each one a perfect circle and placed in a neat, perfect row. Row upon row upon row, circling his forearm from wrist to elbow, some shining with wrinkled scar tissue, others blackened and blistering. And on his wrist, a scab where his ID chip had once been implanted.” When he is questioned about the marks, Scarlet’s father says, “They made me.” Scarlet’s father said that Scarlet’s grandmother watched him. “They gave me the poker . . . and they brought me to her. And I realized, she was the one with the answers. She was the one with the information. They wanted something from her. But she just watched . . . she just watched me do it, and she cried . . . She let them do this to me.”
- Scarlet visits a nearby farm, where there is an illegal fighting ring taking place. Scarlet attends in order to find the fighter she met at The Rieux Tavern. The initial scene of this fighting ring is described as follows: “A writhing crowd shouted up at a hastily constructed stage, where one man was beating his opponent in the face, fist flying over and over with sickening steadfastness. Blood started to leak from his opponent’s nose.”
- Finding the fighter, known as Wolf, at the illegal fighting ring, Scarlet “closed the distance between them and thumped her locked fist into his sternum, ignoring how he towered a full head above her. Her hatred made her feel like she could crush his skull with her bare hands.” While questioning Wolf, Scarlet slams her fist harder and harder into his chest, and when he tries to avoid her, “Scarlet simultaneously grabbed his left wrist and yanked out her gun. She pressed the barrel against his tattoo.” This interaction lasts for a total of three pages.
- At the illegal fight ring, Wolf fights a man called The Hunter. “Hunter threw the first punch . . . Wolf ducked easily and skirted out from Hunter’s shadow . . . A series of blows were deflected, until Hunter’s fist finally connected with a sickening crunch . . . Wolf aimed a solid kick to Hunter’s chest . . . Hunter attacked with renewed vigor. Wolf took a punch in the stomach and was crumpled over with a grunt. It was followed by a blow that sent him careening to the edge of the stage.” This exchange continues until, “Hunter fell to his knees and Wolf was behind him in a breath, his face violently contorted, his hands on each side of Hunter’s head.” Wolf makes to snap Hunter’s neck, but, seeing Scarlet in the crowd, he leaps back, letting Hunter slump to the stage. This description lasts for six pages.
- Captain Thorne is forced to dodge the bullets of the Eastern Commonwealth military as they escape from the Commonwealth in Thorne’s stolen spaceship.
- After Scarlet sees Wolf in the illegal fighting ring, Wolf shows up on Scarlet’s property. Scarlet and pulls a shotgun on Wolf, but eventually Wolf convinces Scarlet to trust him, and she lowers her weapon.
- When one of Emperor Kai’s android tutors, Nainsi, tries to introduce Queen Levana to speak with him, the Queen slaps the android across her single blue sensor.
- When speaking to Emperor Kai, Queen Levana threatens, “One more patronizing comment and I will have you slice off and nail your own tongue to the palace gate.”
- Ran, Wolf’s brother, catches sight of Scarlet and Wolf on a train to Paris. Ran criticizes Wolf for choosing to leave the gang they are a part of, a group known as the Order of the Pack. In response, Wolf accuses Ran of needing the protection of the gangs leader Jael. With this Ran leaps forward to attack Wolf. A tussle between the two brothers begins, until “Ran’s head landed in the water and Scarlet heard a sickening crunch.” Wolf continues to attack his brother, throwing punches, until Scarlet shoots Wolf in the arm to stop him. The conflict lasts about four pages.
- Angered by Wolf for not telling her the full truth behind his motivations to lead her to Paris, Scarlet thinks, “If she ever saw him again she would scratch his eyes out. She would throttle him until his lips turned blue.”
- Scarlet thinks she is finally visiting her grandmother, but quickly realizes it is the Lunar’s thaumaturge who disguised himself as her grandmother to get information from her. When speaking of her true grandmother, the thaumaturge states, “I wonder how lubricated the old lady’s tongue would become if she were to watch as you hammered needles into your own flesh.” Scarlet tries to attack the thaumaturge, lunging to scratch at his face, but she is quickly stopped by the thaumaturge through his Lunar mind control abilities.
- While searching Scarlet and her grandmother’s house, Cinder realizes that Scarlet’s grandmother housed her in secret. When viewing the room she was healed in, Cinder sees herself as a child, which may be disturbing to some readers. The description is as follows: “It was a photo of a child. what was left of a child. She was wrapped in bandages from her neck to the stump of her left thigh. Her right arm and shoulder were uncovered, showing the skin that was gouged bloody red in spots, bright pink and glossy in others. She had no hair and the burn marks continued up her neck and across her cheek. The left side of her face was swollen and disfigured, only the slit of her eye could be seen, and a line of stitches ran along her earlobe before cutting across to her lips.”
- When Wolf approaches Scarlet in her cell, she screams and strikes him with her fists five times before he restrains her by holding her arms to her stomach.
- When Cinder and Captain Thorne are found in a bar in Rieux by Eastern Commonwealth authorities, Thorne punches one of the officers, and gets punched in the gut in return. As Cinder tries to escape the authorities in turn, a man from the corner of the tavern crouches down on all fours, more canine than human, and proceeds to immediately snap the neck of one of the officers. He then bites down on the neck of another officer while the remaining officer shoots in his direction. The man reaches out to fight the remaining officer by clawing at this officer’s face. When the man goes for Cinder, Thorne heaves a chair over his back, and the man then turns to bite into his arm. Cinder is eventually able to tranquilize the man. This fight lasts around twelve pages. There is another description that lasts a page detailing another member of Queen Levana’s forces taking a bite out of the neck of an officer inspecting Cinder’s spaceship before Cinder is able to quiet the canine-like human with another tranquilizer dart.
- When Scarlet manages to escape her imprisonment, she tries to save her grandmother—who she finds in one of the other cells of the building, bloodied through endless torture. Scarlet is found by Wolf’s brother Ran. Scarlet’s grandmother goads Ran until he rushes at her, grabbing her throat. In an effort to fight back, Scarlet jumps onto Ran’s back, clawing at his eye sockets. Ran drops Scarlet’s grandmother, and her form collapses. Ran then proceeds to clamp his jaws over the grandmother’s neck, killing her, while Scarlet escapes.
- Trying to escape, Scarlet hides in the shadows. When Ran passes, she swings a wrought-iron candelabra at Ran’s head. When he tries to grab her hood, Scarlet then aims her knee towards Ran’s groin, thus managing to escape him. When Ran next catches up to Scarlet, he “gripped her shirt and lifted her from the ground.” Ran then throws her at a statue in the room. But before he can attack her a second time, Wolf attacks him from a corner of the room, stopping Ran from continuing to hurt Scarlet. With this begins a fight between Ran and Wolf as one tries to tackle and kill the other. Eventually, Wolf kills his brother with a bite to the neck. Controlled by his orders to kill her, Wolf nearly attacks Scarlet as well, before she convinces him to stop. Scarlet’s escape and battle with Ran and Wolf lasts about thirty pages and a total of two chapters.
- As Cinder, Scarlet, Thorne, and Wolf try to escape, they are caught by Queen Levana’s thaumaturge and the special forces. Scarlet scrambles to Cinder’s Spaceship and manages to mow down a few members of the forces with the ship, including the thaumaturge, granting enough time for Cinder to shoot the thaumaturge in the thigh with her pistol. Scarlet then shoots the thaumaturge with her shotgun.
- The global attack of the Lunar Queen Levana and her special forces is described by Kai as this: “Bodies littered the square, their spilled blood black beneath the flickering billboards. Most of the corpses were concentrated near the opening of a late-night restaurant, one of the few businesses that had been open and crowded at midnight, when the attack had started.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- A location Scarlet delivers goods to, The Rieux Tavern, was popular in her town because “drinking and gossiping were the favorite pastimes.”
- Scarlet catches her father going through her grandmother’s things. As she talks to him, she notes, “The smell of cognac swirled through the air.”
- Roland, The Rieux Tavern regular, is known to be a heavy drinker with whiskey heavy on his breath.
- Scarlet gets a message from a hospital, reporting that her father died from alcohol poisoning. A few pages later, it is revealed that an operative killed Scarlet’s father in a way that would not seem suspicious.
- While fighting with Wolf, Scarlet calls him a “traitor and a bastard.”
- Cinder is known to be a Lunar, which means that she holds the power “to control and manipulate the bioelectricity of other living creatures. [Lunars] could trick people into seeing things that weren’t real or experiencing made-up emotions. They could brainwash people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do.” Cinder uses these powers throughout the book, mainly to escape Queen Levana and the Eastern Commonwealth authorities trying to imprison, and execute, her.
- In an effort to control Earth, the Lunar Queen Levana created an army known as the Lunar Special forces. These forces are later more clearly described as this: “They appear to be Lunar males whose physical makeup has been combined with the neural circuitry of some sort of wolf hybrid.” The effect is that closest to a werewolf of sorts. Wolf, a member of this army, later describes the phenomenon as this: “Each pack is ruled by a thaumaturge who controls when our animal instincts take over, when all we can think about is killing. They’ve manipulated our Lunar gift and used it to turn us into these monsters instead—with some physical modifications.
by Hannah Olsson