Series: The Lunar Chronicles #0.1
Published by Feiwel and Friends on January 27th, 2014
Genres: retellings, science fiction, young adult
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In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.
Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?
Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.
Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.
This review is probably going to come off as confusing to a lot of you. With the high rating, you can trust that really, really enjoyed this surprise installment to one of my favorite series, but at the same time, my favorite character has been totally ruined in my eyes and that makes for a difficult review-writing process. Levana – Snow White’s Evil Queen – has been my favorite character from the moment she walked on the page. I love villains, and I especially love female villains. Of course, the Evil Queen’s origin story in the old fairy is a great source to fall back on in creating Levana’s character and while it felt true to the original fairy tale, it changed the way I now think about Levana.
In the previous books, I found Levana intriguing. We know she’s done some fucked up shit to get the position she holds now. She’s crossed lines and she’s murdered her family just to become queen. We know that she is vain and that she always hides her true face, whether behind a veil or behind a glamour. We know that she is evil, and mostly, we figure that is because she’s an ambitious sociopath. While that’s definitely true, more has been revealed about Levana’s past in Fairest and none of it is very becoming. Levana is crippled by her anxieties and insecurities – something we all know of the Evil Queen. But she takes this to an entirely new level. She mixes that ambition and that insecurity together into a lethal combination, manipulating people to do whatever she wants. The worst is using her Lunar gift on a guard and manipulating him into marrying her after his previous wife dies during childbirth. Levana steals this woman’s face, using her glamour to impersonate Evret’s dead wife. She uses her Lunar gift of manipulation to force him into bed with her – which is where my interest and fascination ended and the true horror began.
I could feel sympathy for young Levana. The book starts when she is fifteen and her sister is just becoming queen. Her sister, Channary, is incredibly cruel and has mentally and physically tortured Levana. So we see how Levana has ended up as twisted and cruel as she is. When she is young, this cruelty isn’t purposeful – she doesn’t realize what she is doing and comes off as naive and unwell. This state lasts for a good while and while I couldn’t condone any of her actions, I could understand them. Until things were taken too far. The rest of the book was just me staring in horror as page after page passed by and Levana grew uglier and more warped with each word.
So while I feel the Levana in my head was entirely assassinated by this novella, I still thought it was really, really good. Not only is Levana the kind of character that can keep pages turning well into the wee hours of the morning, the entire Lunar system was fascinating. Fairest obviously starts about 25 years before Cinder so we get a tour of what the world was like before the plague that is killing Earthens, before Cinder, Kai, and all the rest of the characters we now know and love, grow up and start their own adventures. We also get a great glimpse into what life on Luna is like – the social norms, the way the economy works, how the science side of it works, how the disease was formed, the history of the people. This has always been my favorite aspect of the series and I loved getting to see this side of things. I only wish we had gotten more of a taste of life on Luna from a citizen’s point of view. I know Evret was a commoner but his experience was hardly indicative of what life is like living under the Blackburn rule.
As far as reading order goes, I recommend reading Fairest after Cress – in the order of publication. There are no outright spoilers in Fairest but at the same time, there are hints and glimpses at young princess Selene, young Winter, young Jacin, even young Kai. Smaller characters in Cinder and Scarlet who played larger rolls in Cress play still larger rolls in Fairest. If you jump into Fairest straight away, I’m afraid you’re going to lack context for a whole lot of what’s going on, even if it does happen well into the past, before the series properly starts.
So I’m torn. While I absolutely loved this book – I found it fascinating and infuriating and an emotional roller coaster – I’m very disappointed in what was revealed about Levana. I definitely didn’t think that she would turn out to be a sympathetic character who was doing what she thought was right, however misguided. However, I did think she would be ambitious and self aware and smart and ruthless. She ended up being none of those things and it definitely colors how I received this book. On the other hand, I found it to be an incredible addition to the series that I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to read. If you love The Lunar Chronicles, you’re definitely going to want to check this out.