Mash up some of our best-known fairy tales, "Phantom of the Opera," and the science fiction/cult classic TV show "Firefly," and you'll get some idea of where Tacoma author Marissa Meyer is going with her Lunar Chronicles series for YA readers.
Her debut book, "Cinder," turned a Cinderella-like character into a spirited cyborg mechanic contending with both a wicked stepmother and an evil queen as her nemeses, and a newly anointed Earthen Emperor Kai as her Prince Charming. The book promptly wound up on the New York Times bestseller list.
"Scarlet," out now, is the second book in the series. This tale features a redheaded farm girl who wears a red hoodie and lives with her grandmother in the French countryside. When the grandmother vanishes one day without explanation, and police detectives seem helpless to do much about it, Scarlet vows to get to the bottom of things.
In Chapter 2, she meets a disheveled but handsome street fighter who goes by the name of Wolf. Initial circumstances lead her to believe that he has had something to do with her grandmother's disappearance, but when he seeks her out and offers his help, she realizes that she will need someone with his skills - and, as it turns out, his connections.
They head for Paris, where her grandmother may be imprisoned in the magnificent ruins of what was once the Opera House.
Meyer weaves other narrative strands into this story.
For example, she picks up Cinder's tale from where she left off in the previous book. Imprisoned for disrupting Emperor Kai's inaugural ball, Cinder engineers a jailbreak with the help of a self-aggrandizing thief Captain Carswell Thorne who is locked up in a neighboring cell - their ensuing misadventures get prominent coverage.
And at less frequent intervals, Meyer inserts chapters that are devoted to an high-level power struggle going on between Kai and the ambitious and ruthless Lunar Queen Levana.
The author cuts back and forth between these stories - roaming around the globe and into space, and gradually drawing the characters closer together - geographically and sometimes romantically.
Some of this book feels derivative - a few of the characters seem to be pulled right out of the TV series "Firefly." On the other hand, Meyer's provocatively dystopian twist to familiar fairy tales is invigorating.
One challenge in writing a series is conveying essential information that occurred in previous books without rehashing entire episodes. Meyer tends to err in the opposite direction - for readers who have not had the benefit of reading "Cinder" first, there may be a few mystifying references to characters not featured in this book. Considering "Scarlet's" hefty 454 pages, you might think an extra paragraph here or there could be expended to clear up any confusion.
With the exception of an overlong journey to Paris , most of this tale clips along at a nice pace. You may as well take your time reading, however - installments three and four in this series won't be out until 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com