At long last, I’ve read the final volume in Marissa Meyer’s stunning Lunar Chronicles series! By now, all the die-hard fans have probably gobbled it up, maybe more than once. Being a fan but not quite as die-hard, I waited for my library to finally gets its copies and make one available to me… and I’ve spent the entire past week reading this big, long-awaited book.
I won’t bother with a recap or synopsis. If you’re still reading this review, it’s likely because you’ve either read Winter already or have read at least part of the series and want to know how it turns out.
Well, maybe a teensy bit of a recap. Here’s what you need to know: Winter is the 4th novel in the series (with a novella, Fairest, the most recently published, prior to Winter). The overarching storyline is about a mistreated cyborg mechanic named Cinder, her crush on the Prince (later Emperor) of the Commonwealth, Kai, and the struggle against the evil Queen Levana of Luna.
Woven throughout the four books are reimaginings of fairy tale characters: Cinder is Cinderella, Scarlet is Red Riding Hood, Cress is Rapunzel, and Winter is Snow White. Each gets to headline her own book, but Cinder is the ultimate hero, and hers is the through-story that ties it all together.
I binge-read the earlier books at the beginning of 2015, and adored them. However, it was a little tough getting into Winter at first, after a gap of so many months, and I had to rely on online recaps to feel up to speed enough to be able to move forward.
So what did I think of Winter?
First, the good:
All the action and world-building that we’ve come to love in this series continues in Winter, which plunges us immediately back into the battle for world domination. Cinder and her gang are the underdogs, trying to find a way to take down Levana, who seems to have every advantage possible. She has incredibly powerful mind-control abilities (the Lunar gift), and can make almost anyone within her reach do anything she wants, including self-mutilation, harming a loved one, and worse. How can you fight against power like that?
It’s pretty great to see Cinder’s transformation from unloved outcast to worthy leader. She’s fighting the good fight, standing up for the little guy, trying to take the throne not for her own glory, but for the freedom of the people. All the familiar friends are by her side, doing their parts for the greater good, all at great personal risk to themselves. Winter is a nice addition to the cast of characters, although… well, I’ll get into my “althoughs” below.
The ending is just as satisfying as you’d expect. This is a YA series based on fairy tales, and there’s just no way it’s not going to work out to a happily-ever-after. It’s the getting there that’s such fun.
What I didn’t love quite so much:
Oh, where to start? It’s hard to criticize a series that I mostly loved. I mean, really, it’s just so incredibly rich, detailed, and inventive. That said, there are a few things that felt a bit off to me.
WARNING: LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!
- Artemisia: Is it just me, or did everyone else immediately think “oh hey, it’s the Capitol from The Hunger Games!”? A glittery, extravagantly beautiful city, filled with the privileged upper class, who are pampered, silly, and frivolous, wearing ridiculous fashions, utterly reliant on the underfed, overworked laborers from the outer districts in order to keep up their wealth and resources.
- Length: Each book in the series has been longer than the one before. Cinder is 390 pages; Scarlet, 452; Cress, 550 — and Winter is a whopping 824. Yes, it’s the wrap-up to the entire series, and perhaps deserves to be big. But, there are scenes and chapters that could have been cut or whittled down, and the book would have been fine. It felt a little overstuffed to me.
- Winter and Jacin: Look, I like them both — it just feels a bit late in the game to get invested in yet another couple.
- Cast of characters: What can I say? The story sometimes loses focus because of the need to involve every single character in the story. The series is really and truly Cinder’s story, and while the others may be wonderful, by Winter, many of them are serving mostly a supporting function. We continue seeing them all because they’re a part of the series, but honestly, Scarlet didn’t seem all that important here, and while I understand that she had to be included, she’s just one of many who didn’t seem particularly necessary.
Finally, my two big issues:
- Romance: I get it, these are fairy tales, and fairy tales need a happily ever after. But does every single character need to be coupled off? Is each love story so truly perfect and meant to be? It’s too much. Each of the four power couples is just so, so, so devoted and right and madly, truly, self-sacrificingly in love from the bottom of their perfect hearts.
- Teens and politics: The incongruities get harder and harder to ignore, the further along we go in the series. Kai is the son of the Emperor when we first meet him, a teen heartthrob, adorable, a bit unruly, the boy every girl in the Commonwealth swoons over. Okay, fine. When his father dies, Kai becomes Emperor. Still fine. But there’s something off when we see Kai bouncing between the role of world leader and adorable boy crush. The better he gets at ruling and making the hard decisions needed to protect his people, the weirder it becomes to see him interacting with Cinder and the others — a politician hanging out with a gang of teen rebels. This little exchange made me laugh and wince at the same time:
Levana sighed. “Why, Selene? Why do you want to take everything from me?”
Cinder narrowed her eyes. “You’re the one who tried to kill me, remember? You’re the one sitting on my throne. You’re the one who married my boyfriend!”
Wrapping it all up:
This may make it sound like I didn’t enjoy Winter, and that’s just not the case. I did enjoy it, quite a bit in fact. The writing is fresh and fun, mixing humorous moments with absolutely horrific scenes and pulse-pounding action.
The author takes a moment that was making me uncomfortable — showing the true face of Levana, scarred and burned, that lurks beneath the outward glamour she shows the world. At first, it felt as though her looks alone were being shown as making her worthy of contempt, but fortunately, that’s not what we end up getting:
Cinder hated her own mind for labeling the queen as grotesque. She had once been a victim, as Cinder had once been a victim. And how many had labeled Cinder’s own metal limbs as grotesque, unnatural, disgusting?
No. Levana was a monster, but it wasn’t because of the face she’d kept hidden all these years. Her monstrosities were buried much deeper than that.
Sometimes even a little throwaway moment is so well-written that it shines:
She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. She was not pretty when she cried, and Winter liked this about her.
So really, what’s the deal?
I liked Winter. I really did. Somehow, the plot felt a bit overcomplicated and jumbled, and the large cast of characters kept the focus scattered rather than firmly on Cinder, which would have created greater dramatic tension. The book is clearly a must-read for anyone who’s been reading the series, and it’s a much more satisfying series ender than a few others I can think of (like Mockingjay or Breaking Dawn). The book didn’t need to be 800+ pages long, and I missed some of the awkward quirkiness and self-doubt that made Cinder so special earlier on in the series. Still, I’m glad to have read it, and overall, I still give high marks to the series as a whole.
Truly, my best advice for someone thinking about getting involved with this series is to read Cinder, decide if you want to continue, and then read straight through. I think one of the reasons Winter fell a little short of my hopes is that I had about a 10-month gap in between the rest of the series and this book. The Lunar Chronicles is a series that demands to be binge-read. I’d lost all momentum by the time I read Winter, but I think if I’d read it right after Cress and Fairest, I might still have been so swept up in the energy of the story that the little irritants I mentioned wouldn’t even have caught my notice.
Interested in the series? Check out my post about binge-reading the earlier books, here.
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication date: November 10, 2015
Length: 824 pages
Genre: Young adult/science fiction/fairy tale reimagining