It started out with great promise. Somewhere in Southern France, seemingly far removed from the Eastern Commonwealth and the events of the first book, we're introduced to Scarlet Benoit--a fiery farm girl with a hoodie fetish and a missing granny.
Determined to pick up where the police have given up, Scarlet enlists the aid of a mysterious street fighter known only as 'Wolf' (view spoiler) and together they set out to rescue her beloved grandmother. As they close in on their goal, it becomes clear that granny is hiding something that gives her far closer ties to the worldwide political upheaval than Scarlet could have ever guessed.
With the main character being 18 instead of 16, I'd hoped for a more matured YA feel to the storytelling. Which did occur in some small part. The violence is a little more graphic, and the romantic angle a little more sensual. But the continued simplicity to the structure and worldbuilding—along with the rash immaturity of Scarlett—still held more of an upper MG/younger YA lite-fantasy appeal.
The story alternates back and forth--being told primarily from Scarlet's point of view, while also including chapters that catch us up on what's going on with the recently escaped Cinder from book #1 (and the occasional Emperor Kai thrown in.) Unfortunately, though Wolf is easily the most interesting character outside of Cinder's sidekick android, readers aren't allowed into his head at all.
The greatest drawback for this reader, outside of certain nonsensical political moves, was the character of Scarlet. Unlike the resourceful Cinder, Scarlet comes across as all brash and no brains. She repeatedly makes unrelatable, poor life-expectancy decisions—(view spoiler) And while one could initially mistake her hot-tempered demeanor (and willingness to throw the entire world under a bus in the name of saving her beloved granny) as strength, it doesn't seem an adequate counterbalance to her lacking in cleverness, emotional fortitude, and general likeability.
As far as the romantic element goes, the chemistry between Wolf and Scarlet (despite my gnawing dislike for Scarlet) was leagues more believable than whatever was trying to go on between Cinder and Kai in the first book. I have to give credit for relational progress there. I actually DID enjoy the bickering banter between Cinder and her accidental accomplice, the vain and attemptedly suave Carswell Thorne. Iko's return is a more than welcome and a delightful diversion, as she adjusts to a new “body” that turns out to be oddly fitting to her larger-than-life personality.
What personally left me unsure whether I'd want to invest any more in this series turned out to be one of the few scenes involving newbie Emperor Kai. And there is no way I can explain my frustration without the use of spoilers, so please forgive me. (view spoiler)
There's also the issue to how Cinder and her purpose fell so miserably through the cracks.
Those who were able to suspend disbelief and overlook surfacy worldbuilding in the first book should be able to enjoy this book just as well—if not more—than book #1. Unfortunately, the logistics and lack of character-connectivity are getting the better of me. I'm not sure at this point if I'll continue on in the series.