By the end of last year, I had declared Cinder to be one of the stronger debuts of 2012 (despite the predictable plot and lack of a good villain). Meyer’s characterization and writing did feel like a breath of fresh air into YA, and I really enjoyed reading the book. Plus, having read the press materials, I felt like the rest of the series could turn out to be really interesting. (Cressssss.) But going into Scarlet, I wasn’t sure how Cinder’s story was going to be worked into a whole different plot taking place halfway across the globe.Well, worry not. Scarlet’s storyline and characters dovetail neatly into the plot kickstarted by Cinder, and amps everything up to eleven.Picking up right at the end of Cinder, we get to see the global reaction as to what happened at the Commonwealth Ball and the growing threat of a war with Luna. But what I like is that Cinder’s being on the rule from the law is regulated chiefly to her chapters and only encroaches on Scarlet’s very personal story when the plots become entwined. And even then, it feels like Cinder’s goals can be helped with what little knowledge Scarlet has. But I like that even though the two have the same end goal—finding Michelle Benoit and finding out her involvement with Princess Selene—their reasons for doing so are obviously very different. And much like in Cinder, Meyer shows how you can take the structure of a well-known fairy tale and not force all the major points into a story. The Little Red Riding Hood structure is in here, but it doesn’t feel glaringly obvious. And I love how Meyer made the story work in her universe; the scene at the opera house where Scarlet is ‘reunited’ with her grandmother for the first time is a great reimaging of the equivalent fairy tale moment. Also, even though the reader already knows the big plot ‘twists’ of Cinder, I liked that it’s treated as a genuine mystery with the universe and it actually works. Even though it’s not possible for Scarlet to be Princess Selene, it’s a nice decoy for the Lunar soldiers to think “So Michelle Benoit has a ‘granddaughter?’ Hm. Well, it could be her, but we need to be sure!” It’s a nice moment of tension, even though Cinder eventually shows up. I liked that; it could have been mismanaged, but Meyer handles the reader’s knowledge with the in-universe knowledge really well.So. Scarlet. She does start off a little slow for me to get into her character, but once the plot gets rolling, she’s fantastic. It really comes across in her of how close Scarlet is to her grandmother, and there are genuine reasons for Scarlet to believe she’s in danger. And I like that Scarlet’s quite resourceful—she may not completely trust Wolf, but she’s willing to trust him to find out where her grandmother is. Plus, she can handle herself in a firefight and hold off the pack soldiers. (Her one line in the big climax, “Mademoiselle Benoit has retrieved herself.”; that was awesome.) And despite the two chapters when the two characters finally meet, I do like how Scarlet and Cinder interact. First of all, I loved that Scarlet stood up for Cinder in the very beginning, as it’s a nice establishing moment that Scarlet Does Not Stand for These Bigots. But even at the end, when Scarlet snaps at Cinder for causing all this mess, she’s still willing to try and help Cinder. Honestly, I can’t wait for Book 3, just for the scenes in the spaceship with Scarlet and Cinder bickering about the ship (and Iko butting in because no one’s going to be in charge of her—yeah, Iko’s the spaceship now, I have no qualms about this) and then making up and comparing notes about their respective love interests.(What I actually want is a spin-off sequel series of all four girls flying about the galaxy and the various hijinks that ensue. It’d be like a reverse-gender Firefly and it would be awesome.And yes, I would write that fanfic and the only reason I’m not is because I don’t have Cress and Winter yet and I really really want to write this.) As utterly fantastic as Scarlet is, I do have an issue with Wolf. I have read the prequel short "The Queen’s Army", and I thought that it did a better job of relaying Wolf/Ze’ev’s character than what we got in the book itself. (I have to tangent about prequel short stories/novellas: Honestly, I don’t mind them, but it feels at times for the author to skimp on writing the character/plot development in the book proper. And it becomes a problem when I pick up a hardcover and then hear about “Oh, there’s this other story you have to download” or wait for the publishers to put it in the paperback edition. Side stories ought to be Easter Eggs, not essentially to the overall story.) Here, Wolf fell into the character trait I hate with a lot of YA protagonists: “I’m dangerous! You must stay away from me even though you have reasons!” Ergh. To be fair, once Scarlet figures out that Wolf’s betrayed her, she’s rightfully pissed at him, but still. The ending with the two of them felt really off to me. And continuing on above tangent, "The Queen’s Army" did a better job of explaining the pack politics and the alpha/omega position than what we got in here. (I do have to admit, I laughed when Scarlet was trying to look up wolf-based gangs on her portscreen and fails. It just felt so like a take that of the “heroine googles the mysterious phenomenon!” cliché.) I’m hoping Wolf will get better in the sequels, but for now…I’m not getting into him.I do have to touch on the other new character, and also the best character in the whole book. Captain Carswell Thorne, you ridiculous bastard I love you. Honestly, I kept hearing about Captain Thorne and his dashing ways, and I admit to having a very different expectation for him. I am IMMENSELY happy that he’s blown every single expectation away. His introduction scene with him and Cinder in jail was a brilliant set-up to his character. He’s like my perfect idea of a roguish character, and in a non-love interest manner, I loved the chemistry and banter between Thorne and Cinder. I cannot wait to see what he does in the next two books.(The aforementioned spin-off series: Thorne mooches off the girls, seeing as it’s his ship—despite what Iko says— so he gets to live there, and frequently causes the hijinks they get into. Cinder occasionally has to call Kai to bail everyone out, which he obliges. Except for Thorne. Because Kai thinks it’s funny.)And Cinder, mustn’t forget about our lead character! While book 1 had a strong team with Iko and Dr. Erland, I liked that the beginning of Scarlet forces Cinder to pretty much rely on her own strengths and make it to Africa to rendezvous with Erland. As I just mentioned, I loved her bantering and exasperation with Thorne. It’s also interesting to note that despite the revelation at the end of the first book, Cinder’s still uncomfortable with the idea that not only is she a Lunar, but Princess Selene no less, and that a lot of her journey in book 2 deals with this struggle. It’s a little cliché of Cinder to be conflicted over using her glamour powers, only to go “Oh no, what I have done! I must NEVER EVER USE IT AGAIN!” and then repeat. However, I liked that she resolves to make herself stronger to undo the damage of Queen Levana’s powers. (Also, I have to point out—the scene where Cinder discovers the stasis tank she was kept in for eight years was both creepy and heartbreaking. I loved that scene.)AND, the great thing about keeping an air of mystery of what’s been going back in the Commonwealth is that we do get to see Kai’s scenes. I liked that he’s still conflicted about Cinder; even though she did lie to him about being a cyborg, Kai recognizes her reasons for doing so and doesn’t think she’s a bad person. And while I think Kai’s a COMPLETE IDIOT for bowing to Queen Levana’s demands in the end, it does make sense with the diplomatic position he’s in by the end.The wolf packs were a bit of an improvement for the villains, as they were a clear sense of danger. I’m still not a Levana fan (as a villain), so I’m really hoping that the next installment will gives us more insights to her and Sybil.Scarlet is a perfect example of a great sequel, while also managing to hold its own story and characters, fitting them neatly into the larger framework. While there wasn’t a great team-up of Scarlet and Cinder until the final chapters, I’m still excited for future installments and the two’s collaboration. The plot was much tighter in this, and despite the fairy tale framework, the plotting and writing kept me on my toes. I can’t wait for next year’s Cress.