The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series in recent memory. I’ve loved it since I first picked up Cinder on a whim and couldn’t put it down. I loved Scarlet, even though her and Wolf weren’t my favorite characters of all time. I loved Cress the most, I think because she’s just a normal girl in love with her idol, just trying to do the right thing and save the world. But Winter, the conclusion of this series, is my least favorite of the books. Don’t get me wrong. I still loved it. But I think there’s too much going on, too many plot threads to be wrapped up, too many characters to save, to really give justice to the end of this series.
There will be mild spoilers for this book, as well as the rest of the Lunar Chronicles in this review.
Let’s start with the good.
Winter herself is an awesome character. As the unwanted stepdaughter of the cruel Queen Levana, she’s been forced to witness public executions in which Levana forces her subjects to kill themselves, often as a result of their honest mistakes or very minor crimes. Levana, jealous of Winter’s developing beauty, forced a young Winter to mutilate her own face so that Levana would continue to be the most beautiful woman alive.
Having seen the devastating effects of Levana’s manipulation, Winter vowed to never use her Lunar gift (or “glamour”). As a result, Winter suffers from the Lunar sickness. She often experiences hallucinations, most frequently believing that’s she’s turning to “ice and glass” or that the walls of the palace are bleeding.
Winter knows that everyone believes that she’s crazy. She herself knows that she’s not completely sane. But Winter uses her own brand of manipulation to do what needs to be done. She can pretend to have a hallucination so that her guards are distracted. She can use her exceptional beauty to convince someone to help her. Most of all, her quirky charm and kind, honest personality are hard to resist.
Winter’s relationship with Jacin is cutest, sweetest relationship in the whole series. Winter’s father was a palace guard before he married Queen Levana. Jacin’s father was also a guard. As children, he and Winter often played together, and as Winter grew older, Jacin was her only true friend. Jacin later became a palace guard for Queen Levana, but as we saw in previous books, it’s clear that his loyalties lie with Winter alone.
Jacin is the only person who can coax Winter out of a hallucination. He is the only one throughout the book that we can trust to protect her. But this is not one-sided. Winter also protects Jacin. After Levana punishes Jacin for his betrayal in the previous books, Winter rushes to his side. Unable to tend to his wounds, call a doctor, or even bring him food for fear of Levana doing worse, she comforts him until her own guards drag her away. Winter would rather die than let anything happen to Jacin.
While there is a lot of romance in this book, it is not the main focus. A lot of fantasy books turn into glorified romance novels as the series goes on. There’s nothing wrong with romance, of course. I love a good romance novel, but what I don’t love is when a previously action-centered series decides to focus on what’s happening in the main character’s bedroom instead of the conflicts upon which the whole series is based. Luckily, that doesn’t happen in Winter.
Yes, there are a lot of ships. Cinder/Kai, Scarlet/Wolf, Cress/Thorne, and Winter/Jacin are all present and accounted for. Yes, these pairings are so in love. Yes, they are concerned about what happens to each other. But they don’t let that get in the way of exposing Levana’s tyranny. They’re still focused on their rebellion. The pairings are separated many times throughout this book, but they don’t hide in their bedrooms crying about it. They get stuff done.
Now, for what I didn’t like so much.
This book is really long, and a lot of it is repetitive and unnecessary. These characters are fighting a war. Obviously some things are going to happen. They’ll be separated. Someone will be captured. Someone will be tortured. Levana will manipulate someone. There will be near-death scenarios. The characters will come together again. But this happens over and over and over and over again. Ad nauseam.
I get that these things are going to happen. And I’m glad that Cinder and her friends didn’t just storm Artemisia and have Levana fall at their feet, willingly relinquishing her crown for the good of the planet. What fun would that have been? But how many times can I read about Levana manipulating the couples into hurting each other? How many times can Cinder almost die, only to find a way out in the nick of time? How many times can someone think their partner is dead, only to rejoice when they find out they’re alive and well? How many conflicts can be repeated before I start internally rolling my eyes?
I thought that there were some serious similarities between the Lunar districts and what we’ve seen in other YA dystopian novels. In Winter, we find out that Luna is divided into many districts focused on industry. There are mining districts, farming districts, lumber districts, and so on. By design, it is very difficult for these districts to interact with each other. Most of them are very poor.
Then we have Artemisia, the capital of Luna, in which everybody is fabulously rich. The outer districts are told of food shortages while the citizens of Artemisia gorge themselves on expensive pastries. The outer districts wear neutral-colored clothing and expose themselves to life-threatening elements while the people of Artemisia dress as butterflies or glamour their shoes so that it appears as though they’re walking on fish bowls. The outer districts have curfews and watch mandatory propaganda videos while the Artemisians seem to have few rules.
Sound familiar? I mean, I’m not going to accuse Marissa Meyer of copying anything, but I could’ve done with a bit more originality.
Levana’s demise was just a little bit too convenient. We’ve got three books and how many novellas building Levana up as this viciously brilliant ruler. She’ll stop at nothing to get what she wants. She’ll kill, she’ll maim, she’ll lie and cheat and steal. That’s just what her character is. So I was really, really looking forward to finding out how Cinder would take her down. What kind of glorious battles would they have? What kind of propaganda would Levana crank out to deter support from Cinder? What kind of crazy awesome plan would Cinder come up with to cleverly take back Luna?
I was a little disappointed. Because the way Cinder takes back Luna is – spoilers ahead, if you didn’t already notice the warning – by exposing what’s behind Levana’s glamour. A lot of reviewers have taken issue with this, saying that for a series that has focused on Cinder’s struggle with her appearance, it’s unfair of her to rely on Levana’s insecurities to take her down. I understand that, but it’s not the part that I’m most bothered with.
Levana’s weakness has always been her appearance. I mean, she’s outlawed mirrors. She won’t allow herself to be filmed without a veil. She mutilated her own stepdaughter so she couldn’t turn out prettier than Levana. The woman is obsessed with her looks. In a way, it makes sense that Cinder would use that as a means of taking her down. But what disappoints me is that it’s all Cinder (or Marissa Meyer, depending on how you want to look at this) could think to do.
Levana is so upset, so heartbroken, so shattered to be seen without her glamour that she loses control of her soldiers. She loses control of her guards. She can hardly keep control of one person because she is just so distraught that everybody now knows how scarred and disfigured she really is. She pretty much gives up. Sure, she puts up a bit of a fight, but mostly she’s just slumped over in a chair, waiting for the end.
For a character who was so strong, so vicious, so powerful to be reduced to a whimpering blob… it was disappointing. It was convenient. Because Cinder was worn down too. She’d been fighting, she was injured, she was working without her usual cyborg functions. She would have lost a physical fight. Cinder’s made a lot of progress with her Lunar gift, but she’s still no match for Levana. She would have lost a battle of manipulation. I thought maybe we’d get a battle of wits, but no. We get a saddened, defeated Levana basically just giving up. All because people saw through her glamour. It’s unfortunate. All that build-up, just to be let down in the end.
Overall, though, The Lunar Chronicles is one of my favorite series to date. I would recommend it to anybody who’s interested in the YA sci-fi/fantasy genre. I can’t wait to get my hands on Stars Above.
Final rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 given how much I love this series as a whole.
For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #18: a book that’s more than 600 pages.