Tag Archives: lunar chronicles

Review: Winter (+ Fairest)

Winter weather has struck, and I’ve found an appropriately titled book for the occasion:  This month I read both the final novel in the Lunar Chronicles by Maggie Stiefvater, Winter, as well as the companion novel to the series, Fairest. If you want to check out my thoughts on the first three books, you can follow these links: Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. Otherwise, find my thoughts on the final volume of the Lunar Chronicles below.

About the book: With Emperor Kaito now on Cinder’s side, the Rampion crew sets out on a winternew mission to thwart Levana. This time, as Queen Levana wages all-out war on Earth in response to the delay of her marriage, it’s an all-or-nothing scheme that brings all of Levana’s enemies together, building their strength in numbers. Princess Winter, a new focus in this novel, also becomes involved in the effort to overthrow Levana. She’s not the sort to condone fighting, but when Levana decides she doesn’t want her beautiful stepdaughter to exist anymore, Winter has little choice but to side with those who want to help her rather than hurt her. Still, though the ragtag group of rebels is growing, can they ever be strong enough to face Levana and all her powerful minions? And even if Levana can be overthrown, how can Cinder be with Kai when they would be leaders of countries thousands of miles apart? How can Thorne be with Cress if she wants to explore Earth but he can’t part with his Rampion? How can Scarlet be with Wolf when he has a chance to reunite with his previous life on Luna, or when he has become so animalistic that he may not be safe company? How can Winter be with Jacin when Levana and her head thaumaturge are so determined to kill them? And what will happen to Luna and Earth if Levana wins supreme control?

I have a lot of things to say about Winter, but let’s start with the things I appreciated most in this novel.

First, we have a great balance of characters and perspectives. The reader is presented with a 3rd person narration that alternates between close focus on eight main characters. The transitions between them are easy to navigate–each section leaving the reader wondering what will come next for that character, but equally eager to move on and find out what’s happening to the others who left us hanging. Almost every chapter ends in a mini cliffhanger that keeps the reader going, but there’s no jarring switches because every character’s story is equally exciting. This is the same format we’ve seen since Scarlet, but in Winter, it finally works perfectly.

Secondly, we have an action-packed plot that keeps moving from start to finish. Something that annoyed me in earlier books was that there seemed to be so much sitting around and reflecting on the situation while the narration seemed to be waiting for something to happen. In this one, there’s hardly a chance for anyone to stand still at all, and that eliminated a lot of my problems with the narration. The plot has always been interesting, but in Winter, we have so much plot that there’s no room for repetitive worries about what might happen.

Thirdly, we have all the romance this series has been waiting for. It bothered me a little that all of the main characters were neatly paired off in relationships where the biggest problem always seemed to be pining during separation, but this book puts true strain on each relationship that makes every victory in love more intense. It’s great that each female character is able to do something important on her own–there may be “princes” involved in each fairy tale story, and sometimes the “princesses” need help, but sometimes it’s the princes that need help, and each female is strong enough to stand on her own. The love stories may be cute in a predictable way, but each individual character is an interesting and capable person; they don’t depend on each other, but they make each other happy. I think that’s a positive way to portray any relationship.

“Act natural? Act natural? When her legs were made of noodles and her heart was about to pound right out of her chest and he’d said that he loved her, at least in a sense. What did it even mean to act natural in the first place? When had she ever in her life known how to act natural?”

And fourthly, my favorite part of Winter is Winter herself. Although the narration remains in third person throughout the series, we now have a close look at a character who’s a little mentally unstable. Winter has refused to use her Lunar gift, which makes her a little crazy. It’s so much fun to read about her life and have to separate what’s real from what’s imagined in her head. She’s an unpredictable character, which is wonderful. Winter is just the princess this series needed to pull everything in the plot together.

But let’s also look at the aspects that didn’t jive.

“Levana had been living with her excuses for a long time.”

Levana felt like a drastically different character to me between Fairest (the companion book about Levana’s past) and the Lunar Chronicles proper. In Winter and the rest of the main novels, Levana seems intentionally malicious, someone who enjoys hurting people for the sake of hurting them, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. In Fairest, I did not have that impression at all. Although the narrator of Fairest describes an event in Levana’s childhood that could have caused a mental breakdown and the turning of her character from a sweet little girl to an evil one,that was not the impression I was left with. Levana seemed never to hold any remorse or true understanding of the pain she was inflicting on her victims, as though she was born missing the sympathetic gene. She could do hateful things with dire consequences, using flimsy excuses that she seemed to believe whole-heartedly, but she did them because she thought something could be gained for the betterment of Luna. She was often wrong, but she believed she was helping. In the main books of the series, however, including Winter, Levana acts vengefully. If a character displeases her, she lashes out, not for the betterment of Luna but to hurt that character. She doesn’t seem like a character who grew up without an understanding of sympathy, she seems like she enjoys cutting down every enemy, and when those are gone, creating more enemies to cut down. Although Fairest gave some helpful background information on the Lunar royal family tree, the whole book felt largely like a discrepancy. The most significant reveals were also uncovered in Winter, and after finishing both books, I felt that I hadn’t gained anything by reading Fairest at all. But back to Levana:

“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.”

Are they though? Does Levana really even know that what she’s doing is monstrous? Also, there was definitely undue attention to the “monstrosities” of Levana’s face. It really bothered me throughout this series–and especially in Winter where the matter comes to the forefront–that Levana’s ugliness could be her worst flaw. She’s more concerned with being known as a beautiful queen than a good queen, and it seems that everyone who sees her true appearance says or thinks that she’s catastrophically hideous. I know that in the familiar story of Snow White, the evil queen is obsessed with the fact that the mirror claims her stepdaughter is more beautiful, but I think this series takes the queen’s desire to be beautiful in a bad direction. See, it’s Levana’s scars that make her ugly–scars that were inflicted upon her as torture when she was a child. It felt very wrong to me for so many characters to hold her appearance against her when her scars were the result of the same sort of victimization by manipulation that the rest of them all fear from Levana.

I think the revelation of what happened to Levana as a child had the potential to make the queen a very interesting character with more depth, but instead Meyer took only Levana’s appearance into account and made her a victim again, sending the wrong messages to young Lunar Chronicles readers–that beauty can be more important than fairness or kindness, and that it is acceptable to judge someone based on their appearance, no matter what may have caused the disfiguration.  A little vanity would have been understandable and perhaps even excusable. But when Cinder wants to show everyone on Luna what Levana truly looks like to win more people to her own side, although the point may be to demonstrate the extent of Levana’s lies, the idea seems more like a call to raise arms against Levana because of her ugliness. Fighting because you don’t like the way someone looks is, again, not a good message to be sending impressionable readers.

Speaking of bad messages, there were also a few that stemmed from the narration around Jacin’s character. He was often disheartened or outright upset about how things were playing out for him, leaving him cynical and somewhat hopeless, but he gave the reader some really bad lines. Although in context, the narration makes clear to the reader that his opinions are wrong and come from a place of depression, there are a few things he says that I didn’t want to read, ever, in any context. Things like, “Dreams are for people with nothing more important to do.” There was also one that stood out to me about hope being pointless. I don’t know the wordings of these quotes for sure. I didn’t mark them to look back on. That’s my point–whenever I read any book, I mark passages that are inspiring or well-done, quotes I want to remember later. I think this is something many readers do. I don’t want to read things that would ever make me feel bad about dreaming or having hope, and I don’t think those sorts of statements should be in a book like this at all–maybe in any book. So I didn’t mark them as I read, but they stuck with me. I understood Jacin was feeling particularly down on his luck, and I didn’t have a problem with that, but I think the narration expressed it in a bad way.

That’s not to say the narration was all bad, though. Here’s a quote I did like:

“One should never save cake for later when it can be eaten now.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. Various aspects of this series have bugged me on and off from the very first book. There was not a single book in this series that I really loved enough to completely overcome my reticence for some of the narrative maneuvers, but obviously I enjoyed them enough to read the entire series. Indeed, Winter was my favorite book of all four. I’m glad that I didn’t quit early, because the series definitely had more to offer than was made apparent in Cinder or Scarlet. I don’t completely understand why this series is so popular, but it certainly has its merits.

What’s Next: I’m currently reading Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6, the final volume in his Russian Child 44 trilogy. You can find my review of that book here if you’re interested, but since I didn’t create a post about the second book in the series, The Secret Speech, I probably also won’t include one of Agent 6. After that, I intend to read and post about Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed, a thriller about a girl who is presumed dead, and the policewoman who’s investigating her case. Also, I’m planning some changes and additions to my blog for the coming year, so although I may not share much for the end of December, there’ll be new excitement in January!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: Cress

This is the Lunar Chronicles book I was waiting for. I’ve heard a lot of love for this series, but Cress, the third book in the set, is the first one that really hooked me in the way I’d been hoping Marissa Meyers’ books would. This will be a spoiler-free review of Cress, but I’ll be assuming you’ve already read the previous two books. If you need a refresher, you can check out my complete reviews of Cinder and Scarlet with these links.

About the book: Cinder and crew are devising a plan aboard the Rampion to thwart Queen Levana. They are able to contact Cress with the D-COMM chip again, and communicate with her about evidence against Levana that Cress has gathered from aboard the satellite where she is imprisoned. Things never go as planned, of course, and in this case the consequences leave Cress more vulnerable than ever. In fact, as Cinder scrambles for a plan that will aid everyone’s specific ailments and counter a myriad of unforeseen predicaments, it seems that everyone aboard has some reason to suffer and must find the strength to persevere for the ones they love and the causes they believe in. With the royal wedding drawing near, Cinder is also growing more desperate to free Emperor Kai from his impending marriage, and Kai is growing more desperate to find Princess Selene, whom he hopes will be able to save them all. Theirs isn’t the only unconventional romance, however. Cress meets Earthens for the first time in her life, and can hardly help falling in love…cress

” ‘Do you think it was destiny that brought us together?’ [Cress asked.] He squinted and, after a thoughtful moment, shook his head. ‘No. I’m pretty sure it was Cinder. Why?’ […] ‘I… I had a crush on you, before we even met, just from seeing you on the netscreens. I used to believe that you and I were destined to be together, someday, and that we would have this great, epic romance.’ One eyebrow ticked upward. ‘Wow. No pressure or anything.’ She squirmed, her body was vibrating with nerves. ‘I know. I’m sorry. I think you might be right, though. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as fate. Maybe it’s just the opportunities we’re given, and what we do with them. I’m beginning to think that maybe great, epic romances don’t just happen. We have to make them ourselves.’ “

Like the previous books, in Cress the reader is given multiple 3rd person views into the lives of the characters, divided by chapters. Unlike other books though, this one seemed to switch perspectives with nearly every chapter, and there seemed to be many more primary characters in this volume. In the past, we’ve had a few primary characters and more secondary characters who may appear in close narration but seem less vital to the story. In Cress, every character is a crucial piece to the puzzle, and the narration weaves between them in a way that leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next–except the next chapter picks up a different thread of the story. In a way, this back-and-forth narration is what I had been looking for in this series and I was so glad to see it here. There were cliff-hanging endings between chapters narrated by different characters, which is a fun concept within a book and was actually the element that most drew my attention in Cinder.

However, it did become a little exhausting and frustrating to be left wanting more at the end of every chapter. I never felt like I was catching up with the story; there was always so much more dangling ahead, and honestly I still felt that a bit at the end of the book. The transitions were a little jarring, and it was harder to capture resolution with this format, but it did keep me pushing forward through the story, and kept me engaged with all of the main characters. I hope we see more of this style in the final books (although technically there are four main novels in this series, I’m going to read Fairest next, which is a sort of companion book that was published between Cress and the official fourth Lunar Chronicles book, Winter).

Best aspect: unlike my initial impressions of Scarlet, Cress features characters that feel unique and separate from one another. Each character here has their own plot line, and suddenly they’re all equally interesting. Cress has one of the most interesting backstories we’ve seen yet, and her romance is solid while the others work through expected (Cinder and Kai) and unexpected (Scarlet and Wolf) logistical difficulties. The characters have grown in this novel. Their personalities remain consistent, but they’re stronger, they branch out on their own endeavors more easily, but they also work more smoothly as a team than we’ve seen so far.

Worst aspect: I can’t say that it’s grammatically incorrect, but something about the writing style in this series grates my nerves on a minute level rather than a structural one, especially in the sections that have more exposition than action. I think part of the problem is that the reader is often given explanations twice–first when a character discovers something, and then again when the character is finally ready to talk about it. This seems like a typical order of operations, but in a book this long it seems unnecessary to be reading the same discovery both when one character makes it and when they decide to share it. A faster pace and a little more hinting rather than overkill explanation would really help the writing style fade into the background where it belongs. It’s not exactly written poorly, but there are sentences that sound awkward, and I never think, “Oh yeah, great word choice there,” which is usually something I notice frequently in books. I like that this world has its own vocabulary for its futuristic devices and ways of life, but something about the narration makes these books feel unpolished to me. I realize this is probably no more than a personal disconnect with the author’s writing style, but it’s the thing that keeps almost turning me off of these books, so I thought it was worth a mention. Even in Cress, where the structure and plot have finally reached their full potential, I couldn’t completely look past my dislike of sentence wordings.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I clearly still have some hesitancy about the writing style, but this volume is a definite improvement on all counts compared to the first two books. The plot threads introduced in the first two books are finally all coming together in an exciting way that makes each of the characters and their connections so much more interesting. I’m much more excited about carrying on with this series than I have been, and I’m looking forward to delving into both Fairest and Winter in the upcoming month. I’m hoping it’ll keep going uphill from here and this series will morph from good to great. Keep an eye out in December for my final thoughts on the Lunar Chronicles.

Further Recommendations:

  1. Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy is a great dystopian interplanetary choice for readers of the Lunar Chronicles who like the plot and world of Cinder and her friends but, like me, wish a different sort of writing style could portray them. In Red Rising, society is divided unfairly into a hierarchy of colors, and Darrow, a lowColor, is ready to rebel against the evil Sovereign of Luna. You can find my complete review of this book here.
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is another YA fantasy novel with great characters and a unique world that fans of the Lunar Chronicles will likely enjoy. If you haven’t yet read about the faeries’ war against yet another evil self-elected “queen,” you should check it out. You can find my complete review of this book here.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading another mid-series YA book, one I’m even more excited about than the remainder of the Lunar Chronicles: Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves, the second book in the Raven Cycle. The top-notch writing drew me in immediately, but as usual with a sequel, there are some notable changes in the storyline. Expect another scintillating Stiefvater review soon!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my review of the next book in this series, Winter, here!

Review: Cinder

The YA genre really seems to have expanded and diversified recently, even just in the five years or so since I was almost exclusively reading YA books. Especially in sci-fi and fantasy, YA has become remarkably inventive with its creative plots and unique world-building. YA isn’t just for teens anymore. I think the Twilight saga, back in its heyday, was one of the first modern YA stories to attract a wider audience, and it’s no longer uncommon to see adults shopping for themselves in the YA section at bookstores. I’m beginning to feel just past the usual age for YA books, but recently I’ve been noticing that there are still some gems there I don’t want to miss. YA fiction may have different rules of conduct than adult fiction, but I think for this reason it’s important not to overlook the category if you’re interested in taking literature to its limits. And so I’m diving back in. Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, first book Cinder, is one of the few YA series that my small library owns the complete set of, so I recently picked this one up.

About the book: Cinder is the cyborg stepdaughter of a woman who despises her and an inventive man who has died of the letumosis plague. Set in New Beijing after the fourth world war, this story features a society desperately seeking a cure for letumosis, which has swept the globe, leaving no survivors among those who seem to have been randomly infected. On top of surviving the plague horrors, Cinder must also earn a living for her greedy family by working as a mechanic. Her booth in the marketplace is visited by an unusual guest–Prince Kai. The royal family is having trouble of its own, trying to reach a peace agreement with the Lunars, a powerful society based on Earth’s moon. The upcoming annual ball is the least of Cinder’s concerns, and even though Kai has issued her a special invitation, she isn’t allowed to attend. She isn’t allowed to do much of anything these days–maybe not even to live, especially as Cinder unearths royal and Lunar secrets that may affect her life more than she ever would’ve guessed.

There is so much about this book that is unexpected. I knew beforehand that there would cinderbe ties to the classic Cinderella story, and I knew Cinder would be a cyborg. I anticipated a typical YA love story with Cinder heading off into the sunset with Prince Kai by the end of the book, but every time I thought I had found a path through the complexities of the story, I was hit with another twist. I wasn’t expecting a deadly plague, a character more evil and dangerous for Cinder than her uncaring stepmother, or rumors about the ruling family of the moon. All of the Cinderella story details I’d expected faded into the background as the unique, futuristic elements took over. This is a whole new fairy tale:

“Cinder stared at the holograph and imagined watching herself die. In real time.”

Best aspect: world building. I’ll let Meyer and Cinder speak for themselves here:

“Cinder opened her eyes. The netscreen on the wall had changed, no longer showing her life stats. Her ID number was still at the top, headlining a holographic diagram. Of a girl. A girl full of wires. It was as if someone had chopped her down the middle, dividing her front half from her back half, and then put her cartoonish image into a medical textbook. Her heart, her brain, her intestines, her muscles, her blue veins. Her control panel, her synthetic hand and leg, wires that trailed from the base of her skull all the way down her spine and out to her prosthetic limbs. The scar tissue where flesh met metal…those things she had expected.”

Worst aspect: Cinder’s a bit of a dunce when it comes to people. She’s a great mechanic who makes intelligent plans and has the competency to carry them out, but despite her built-in lie detector, she has trouble understanding the motives of  the people she’s around. She’s constantly underestimating her stepmother, can’t quite guess what the doctor in charge of plague research is hiding from her even after the reader is able to figure out the pieces of that puzzle, and she can’t see what Queen Levana is capable of until a third party steps in to point out the obvious. Cinder is not a weak character. She’s not even unobservant. But she’s slow to realize what the reader’s already figured out. She also sees less value in herself than most of the other characters, which is saying something considering the way most people of this time period treat cyborgs.

” ‘I didn’t know how to control it. I didn’t know what was happening…It’s probably a good thing I’m in here. There’s nowhere out there I would fit in, not after that.’ “

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. This book started off rocky for me; the first couple of chapters failed to impress me, but after a couple more I’d gotten the gist of the world and fell into the rhythm of the switching character perspectives and the plot hook at the end of each chapter that kept me turning pages. The story was more complex than I expected setting out, and I am definitely intrigued at how the events laid out in this first volume will continue to branch out and solidify in the next three books. I’m also excited to see the perspectives of more new characters in this futuristic world–while I enjoyed the world, the plot, and some of the characters, I didn’t necessarily love Cinder, but I need to know what will happen to her and the rest of the cast as the series progresses. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel, Scarlet, in the upcoming month.

Further recommendations:

  1. As YA retellings of famous stories go, Meg Cabot’s Avalon High, based on the story of King Arthur at Camelot, is a long-standing favorite of mine. A teen at the local high school comes to realize she may be living a reincarnation of Arthur’s story, but she can’t accept the same fate as her Arthurian counterpart succumbed to.
  2. If you want more YA fantasy, try Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. I actually liked the spin-off series better, but Clare’s books are best read in publication order, which begins with City of Bones. This series isn’t quite as futuristic as The Lunar Chronicles, but there are definitely more fantasy elements and the level of world-building detail is superb.

What’s next: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest is a beautiful and powerful little novel about an old woman living on the coast of Australia, who begins to notice a tiger visiting the inner rooms of her house at night–a tiger that may or may not be real. The tiger is not the only thing moving into Ruth’s home, though, and may turn out to be the least dangerous new addition… Stay tuned to learn more.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Update: you can now find my complete review of the next book in this series, Scarlet, here!