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Scarlet - Marissa Meyer I find my feelings on this book complicated. In an attempt to sort through the madness, I've stolen a chunk of Mara's typical review structure. Here's hoping it does the trick.

Characters: As expected, the cast of characters expands. Cinder is still likable enough, though I continue bemoaning the author's decision to add more special-ness. I think her character and the story would be more interesting had she been cyborg, no Lunar powers, instead of taking the predictable "look how suddenly stronger than the evil queen she is" approach.

I liked the general idea of Scarlet ahead of time and found her likable. She has a temper, but generally makes rational decisions, or is amusing when she doesn't. She's a pilot, and she shoots people--twice! Overall, I am happy with her character, though, again, why must the author continue to pile on the (in this case useless) special-ness? I know it's called "The Lunar Chronicles," but it doesn't mean everyone has to be Lunar or have Lunar ancestry.

I am actually okay with the addition of "Captain" Thorne thus far. He's a source of levity and a criminal element, without being the kind of murderous villain Cinder might more readily have found during her prison escape. I have a sinking feeling the author may turn him into a romantic interest for one of the two remaining title characters at which point he will fall madly in love and forsake his womanizing ways, which would be a little too sudden and untrue to life/human nature/conditioning ... but we'll see.

Kai and company: see Plot.

I read Meyer's short story "Queen's Army" before Scarlet, which strongly affected how I read Wolf, Ran, and Jael. I was halfway through the book before I realized how much. Wolf is different enough from "Queen's Army" Ze'ev to make a fresh impression and not be dependent on the short story backstory. Ran and Jael ... When I cut out my knowledge of the short story, Ran suddenly seemed more a wimp and less a villain than ever. He's a whiny weakling of a little brother who enjoys late night stalking and proving how much of a man/wolf he is by beating up anyone weaker. Classic psych and not very scary. Jael would have been creepier had the author not insisted on repeatedly telling us how unsettling it was that his smile/laughter belied evil intentions. Duh, we know he's evil. See more in Writing.

Romance: Cinder and Kai care for one another, but there is no mention of true love and more important things (like global security) take precedence. I am satisfied. Scarlet and Wolf are a less clear-cut pair. For all but the last of the book, it's understood and stated that this is not love. It's lust, hormones, a crazy situation leading to great confusion and desire for companionship ... anything but love. Then, at the end, essentially, a Google search reveals that instincts might be responsible for one side of the equation and Scarlet hints that hormones/loneliness are it on her end for now. Then the possibility of insta-love is thrown in there by the boy. Just no. The Google search answer was a stretch, the mention of "instinct" made me flinch in memory of Twilight's abominable "imprinting," and the whole conversation needed much more sarcasm and laughter than it had. Just no. No insta-love, not after you've both mentioned the 1-2 day time period. No.

Plot: This book is heavier on the action and the war, which makes Scarlet and Wolf's chapters pretty fast paced and fun. Cinder's chapters are, unfortunately, a little slow and boring until she reaches France. There's too much depressing introspection, even while escaping prison. I could have done without Kai and company. Their chapters don't necessarily detract from the story, but they never further the plot or offer any information we don't get later. (That darn omnipresent paparazzi.) The only reason I see for this inclusion is to keep Kai in the forefront of the reader's mind and tell of his continued indecision regarding Cinder. Which also could be and is conveyed by the press.

I do wish there were more lightness and humor. I know resorting to humor is a coping mechanism in the face of all this horror, but it's one I'd like to see more of. If I wanted pure doom and gloom, I'd watch the news.

I really hope they do more with the surgical procedure Linh Garran developed. Why did the grandmother not do more with that knowledge after Linh died when she knew it worked, or at least have her granddaughter made immune? Cinder better have downloaded the specs for future use. It sounds a little too easy, but it will be worse if it is that easy and they never take advantage of it. Also, for being the great Alpha that he's supposed to be, who could take down four of his pack easily, Wolf had way too much trouble with the Omega.

Writing: This is one of the elements that really tripped me up in the book. All the issues I noticed in Cinder, but could usually ignore, are bigger and more noticeable here. Some are personal preferences, like the overuse of certain phrases and too many adverbs in general, and a lack of precise language, but the overarching problem for me is the imbalance of tell v. show. It feels like the author is spelling things out for the reader too much and too often, which makes the writing feel padded and less effective, sometimes awkwardly so. I remember one scene in particular: Scarlet is running for her life, trying to pick which way to go, and the author notes that a statue is completely whole, as if untouched by all the surrounding destruction since whatever war long ago. It breaks the pace, the scene, everything. Why?

On the bright side, the transitions between chapters work well, and I get more descriptions on the setting.

Conclusion: While, for me, Cinder was a 3-star that could have been a 4-star, Scarlet is a 3-star that was almost a 2. I tore through it in two sittings, always wanting to know what would happen next. At the same time, multiple issues irked me as I read. I will probably read the next book in the series. I still enjoy seeing Meyer's twists on fairy tales and would like to see how she continues the story, but, I admit, I'm also a little afraid of finding fond feelings for her earlier work tainted by continued writing in this vein.

So, while it was not all that I hoped, I would still recommend this book to fans of fairy tale retellings and YA heroines with some semblance of brains and spines.