I dismissed this book early on as another mash-up in the vein of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (awesome) or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (not so much). There's even an Android Karenina. I kept seeing such positive reviews, I knew I should give it a chance.
The comparison to those other titles isn't quite right given Cinder takes the base premise of the Cinderella fairy tale and builds an alternate cyborg and android-filled reality upon it. It's not a straight retelling of the story--there's less emphasis on the evil stepmother, and more focus on Cinder's own struggle with her identity, as cyborg's are second-class citizens, and a crumbling world around her where everyone is susceptible to a dangerous disease. I got a real anime feel with this book--it would make a great manga or anime series. I loved how the fantasy world somehow still captured the traditional fantasy aspects of Cinderella (a prince, a bustling market, clashing of social classes), but offered an entirely new take on it. Her robotic reflections were woven into the narrative in clever ways--her control panel would heat up when she was upset, for example. The details made me smile and it set the book apart from feeling gimmicky.
The stakes are also set higher than traditional Cinderella. Her sole goal isn't getting the prince, although he's definitely a factor. Cinder is a mechanic, and Prince Kai approaches her in the market to fix his broken android. Kai's urgent plea for Cinder to fix the android reveals there's more going on, possibly related to the rapidly-spreading disease and rumors of a possible alliance with the lunar queen. Their initial attraction is believable, which is nice, and of course there's no way they can be together because of Cinder's lower class and Kai's royalty. To top that, Cinder uncovers more about her past that makes their fate even worse.
There's a lot going on here that by the end of it, even throwing in the Cinderella comparison feels weak--the story really stands on its own. This is a refreshing, inventive story that was a lot of fun to read. I listened to the audio book, which I'd recommend.