November Book Review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4)

By: Marissa Meyer

Release Date: November 10th 2015

*Beware: Spoilers ahead!*

Official Synopsis:

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?  Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s nationally bestselling Lunar Chronicles series.

My Synopsis:

Winter is the princess of Luna, beloved by the people for her kindness and worshipped for her astonishing beauty.  She’s everything her stepmother, Queen Levana, isn’t, and Winter has lived in constant danger of Levana’s wrath since she was a child.  The queen has already left physical scars, and Winter knows that her stepmother would be more than happy to leave emotional ones as well, especially if she could exploit Winter’s feelings for her childhood friend and palace guard, Jacin. 

But Winter isn’t as helpless as she may seem, and years of undermining Levana’s orders finally pay off when Cinder, the true queen of Luna, and her friends finally arrive.  Working alongside her new allies, Winter may find she hold the power to begin a revolution that has been years in the making.

In this stunning conclusion to the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter must take down the evil queen if they ever want to find their happily ever afters.

My Thoughts:

I have a love-hate relationship with endings.  Yes, I get that you must have endings to make way for new beginnings (and I’m already looking forward to Heartless!), but when something is great, I’m never truly happy for it to be over.  This is definitely how I felt about Winter, the last book in the Lunar Chronicles.  Winter had everything I could’ve asked for in the conclusion to such a fantastic series: comedy, sarcasm, secrets, daring escapes, spaceships, a crazy queen, betrayals, disguises, life-changing kisses, tons of action, and never-ending girl power. 

Seriously, there’s so much girl power, and it’s totally great.

But really, this book was greater than I could’ve imagined, with tons of character development, a fast pace, fun twists, and the delightfully fresh and futuristic take on fairy tales that has served as the foundation for each book in the series.  Yes, the book is long (like Harry Potter long), but the story is absolutely worth it.  There wasn’t anything that I thought could’ve been cut, as Meyer made sure that every page, every word contributed to the stunning finale for Cinder and co.

Like the past three books, Winter is a futuristic retelling of a classic fairy tale; in this case, it’s Snow White getting the space-age treatment, and much like in the show ‘Once Upon a Time,’ Meyer transforms Snow White into a much more interesting character than her annoying-voiced Disney counterpart.  No longer is our princess simply a pretty face and a deft-hand at housework.  While Winter is certainly beautiful, even with the facial scars gifted to her by Levana, she is such a fully realized individual.  She’s spunky and creative and loving and kind to a fault, even going as far as to sacrifice her own sanity to ensure that she would never force her own will upon someone else. 

Winter’s insanity is an interesting trait, as it comes across equal parts depressing, admirable, and hilarious.  Depressing, because Levana and Luna’s elite treat Winter like a joke; admirable, because of how she’s refusing to be like her manipulative and murderous stepmother; and hilarious, because Winter totally knows when to play up her craziness and use it to her advantage.  Throughout the book, Winter often plays the crazy card to simply thwart Levana, save someone’s life, or help Cinder and the revolution.  It’s manipulation used for good, and it saves the day more often than not.  Making Winter somewhat less than sane was a great way to create unpredictability while also giving us this wonderful, selfless, powerful character that has been damaged as a result of the queen’s evil.

I also really love Winter’s interactions with the main crew, particularly Jacin and Scarlet. Both of these individuals have spent a lot of time with Winter and have come to know her in both her lucid and crazed moments, but the relationships they’ve formed with the princess couldn’t be more different.  Jacin has known Winter since they were kids, and he’s long served as her protector from both the outside world and her internal terrors.  The friendship between these two has grown into something more, although neither of them will admit it out of fear of what Levana would do if she found out.  I think it really says something about Levana’s ruthlessness that these two, who everyone can simply tell are in love, have to hide their feelings at the risk of both or either being killed.  Levana loves having the upper hand, and as she despises both Winter and Jacin, she’d jump on the chance to pit them against each other. 

And that’s exactly what happens when Levana sees her subjects’ love for Winter and decides it’s time to get her stepdaughter out of the picture once and for all.  Jacin as the queen’s huntsman wasn’t unexpected, given Jacin’s position and Levana’s knack for making as many people as miserable as possible, but it was a nice way to combine two fairly one-dimensional characters—the huntsman and the prince—into one real and interesting guy.  And let’s face it, Jacin as simply the prince would’ve been a waste of his skills as a soldier, but he definitely would’ve been the crankiest prince ever.  But he makes up for all that scowling by truly loving Winter and doing whatever is necessary to keep her safe.  The scene where he finds Winter in the suspended-animation tank is beautiful in that it references Snow White without being predictable and in that it allows Jacin to openly show how he feels about his princess.  He doesn’t care that he might catch the disease or that the sickness has disfigured Winter’s beauty.  All he sees is his princess, his best friend and the woman he loves, and he is more than willing to put her life before his own.

The friendship between Winter and Scarlet, on the other hand, is a much different beast.  Scarlet is forced into a relationship with Winter as she must rely on the princess for food and medicine during her captivity on Luna.  Things are rough at first, but Scarlet eventually realizes that Winter isn’t like other Lunars, and while she doesn’t always make sense, her heart’s always in the right place.  It’s because of this genuine goodness that Scarlet doesn’t hesitate to risk her own chance of escape to save Winter from Levana’s rule, and the two end up together for most of the book.  Most of the scenes between these two end up coming across as a buddy comedy, with Scarlet playing translator for Winter’s delusions or dragging Winter out of crazy situations. (It’s even funnier when you think about how different Scarlet’s dealings with Winter are from her dealings with Wolf.)  Scarlet’s the steel to Winter’s cotton candy personality, and while they have their differences, it’s clear they care for one another.  It’s a slow growing but genuine friendship, and it’s so much richer for having overcome the initial distrust.

I could never pick a favorite character in this series.  Everyone brings something amazing and admirable to the table that makes me want to be like them. Cinder’s independent and determined, Scarlet stands up for the underdog with endless ferociousness.  Cress’ technological skills are unparalleled, and Winter’s kindness and heart make her the people’s favorite.  Kai is selfless and diplomatic, Wolf is fiercely protective, Thorne is (overly) confident, and Jacin is no-nonsense but self-sacrificing.  All of these traits are challenged again and again as they work to take down Levana, and I was always right there with the characters as they questioned themselves and what they stood for.  But each of them had their time to shine and their time to play the hero, and it’s obvious that none of them could’ve succeeded without the others.

While Cinder is obviously the (reluctant) leader, it never seems like the rest of the Rampion crew plays second fiddle.  There are really a hundred little moments that made me fall in love with each and every one of these characters, as well as with the more secondary characters. As I read through Winter, I thought I couldn’t love any one of them more, and then something would happen that would just solidify their standing as one of my favorite characters ever: Winter going full Snow White and cleaning Maha’s house, Kai attacking Levana at the wedding and not bothering to apologize for it, Cinder’s dry and to the point revolution videos, Iko’s love for Cinder’s new dresses, Cress telling herself to be brave, Thorne not bothering to be worried when Levana threatened him, Torin’s dry sense of humor and his boundless support for Kai and Cinder, Scarlet and Wolf doing anything.  There were so many touching and “heck yeah!” moments in Winter.  There were lots of funny moments, too, although I probably laughed the hardest when Throne high-fived Cinder at her coronation.  It was so very Thorne, but it was also a perfect way to show that even thought she’d won back her throne, the crew would always see Cinder as their cyborg mechanic.

I also saw that high-five, along with the yellow icing on her coronation gown, as a reminder that Cinder never wanted to be queen.  While she’d have liked a better family and some respect, Cinder was happy being a mechanic.  It was only when she truly realized how taking back her throne would help both Luna and Earth that she accepted her role as the lost princess.  And because she’d never wanted to be queen, I fully agreed with Cinder’s decision to eventually turn Luna’s government into a republic.  She realized that she’d need to stick around long enough to fix all the damage Levana had caused, but her home and heart were on Earth, and that was where she truly belonged.  I think Cinder would make a good queen, and the skills she would learn during her reign would serve her well when the day came for her to become Kai’s empress.  (We’d better get a few short stories set during these periods.  I need frantic Cinder/Kai calls as she tried to figure out what she’s meant to be doing and more sarcastic banter and an awkwardly adorable proposal and another grand coronation where Iko gets to be in charge of all the decorations.)

And speaking of Cinder’s new position as queen, let me say how much I loved those final scenes leading up to her taking the throne.  I loved that the people rallied behind Cinder and fought alongside her for their freedom.  I loved that everyone had their own role to play to take down Levana.  I loved that the revolution wasn’t sanitized and that we got to see the horrors of war: Thorne was forced to stab both Cress and Cinder, Winter broke her vow and made Scarlet kill a man, hundreds upon hundreds of Lunars died, Cinder was forced to kill her aunt as she herself was dying.  War isn’t fun or pretty, and death is a very real possibility. But sometimes war is necessary for change, and Levana was never going to give up her throne without a fight.  I have to admire the queen for her devotion to herself and her position; she was willing to go as far as she needed to keep the crown, and while she was a terrible person, she totally owned it.  I was glad that she was the only one of the main cast to die, though, and that Meyer didn’t feel the need to kill off any of the couples. I’m sure some people complained that everyone survived, but I felt like we had been given a clear enough picture of how terrible war can be without having to break anyone’s shipper heart.

Then we get the individual scenes between all the couples. These were all absolutely precious, and they each gave a good glimpse of the future for each pairing.  I especially loved the return of Cinder’s childhood cyborg foot.  It always made me smile to know that, no matter what craziness was going on or what new charges had been brought against Cinder, Kai always kept the foot she’d lost at the ball.  I was so pleased that we finally got a pay-off for the ‘glass slipper,’ and with Cinder dropping into the water at the last, it was a wonderful message that people love us for who and not what we are.  Maybe it was a little cheesy, but I like cheesy, and I was so glad that everyone got the HEA they’d worked so hard to find.

So was there anything I didn’t like about this book?  I hesitate to say yes, mostly because my two complaints are rather nit-picky, and each of them was really necessary for the book to work out as it did.

For most of the story, the characters were rolling through a cycle of running, getting captured, being injured/tortured in some way, and escaping.  The group would get split up as they ran from Levana’s forces, and everyone would have some crisis to handle before the groups randomly met up again.  Lather, rinse, repeat, with minor variations for a few hundred pages.  While this pattern was repetitive after a while, it did help with the pacing of the story, and it allowed the different character groupings to play to their strengths as they further prepared for the revolution.  Because it did help the story move along, I can overlook the cyclical nature of this plot device. 

So I guess my only real complaint was that Winter felt more like a secondary character in her own book than any of the heroines before.  Yes, there were lots of things to wrap up in this last book—a revolution to be fought, a queen to be stopped, two worlds to be saved—but I wanted a little more time with Winter herself.  She was such an interesting character that it was a shame she got pushed to the side a bit in favor of Cinder’s revolution.  Granted, Winter would probably be more than happy to stay out of the spotlight, as long as Jacin’s standing beside her.

Overall, I loved Winter and I felt like it was a wonderful ending to an exciting and unique series.  The Lunar Chronicles has definitely become one of my favorite series, and while I’m sad to see it end, I feel a little better because it’s not technically the end just yet.  Meyer has already announced the release of Stars Above, a collection of short stories set in the world of the Lunar Chronicles to be released next February.

Squeeeeeeee!!!  And isn’t the cover just gorgeous?!

So while I’m sad to say goodbye to Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, Winter and Jacin, Iko, Torin, and all the rest, it’s really just a ‘be seeing you.’  And even if this were the final goodbye, Winter is such a strong and satisfying conclusion that I would be satisfied with the wonderful characters and world Meyer has given us.  So whether you’ve been a fan since page one or you’re looking for a new take on some classic tales, be sure to check out Winter and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles.  You’ll be thanking all of the stars, one by one, that you did.

Favorite Lines:

  • She was not a girl of ice and glass at all, but a girl of sunshine and stardust, because Jacin wasn’t going to die.
  • She knew that he knew that she was standing there, staring at him.  It was infuriating how he could do such a blasted good job of ignoring her.  Tapping a finger against the flesh of her elbow, she dead panned, “Sir Jacin Clay, there is an assassin under my bed.”
  • Throne guffawed and pushed a hand into his hair.  “Are we running a boarding house for misplaced royalty around here, or what?”
  • She wasn’t quite sure what a kiss would be like, and it was different and awkward in that hasty stolen moment, but she was confident they could perfect it later.
  • There had been no sign of Levana since they’d entered, and Iko almost expected the crazed queen to jump out from behind a corner and try to stab them with her pointy-heeled shoes.
  • Scarlet brushed hair off her shoulder.  “It’s a lemon cake.  My grandmother’s special recipe.  But—“ her gaze swooped down Cinder’s dress, “—you might want to wait until after the coronation so you don’t get frosting all over yourself.”  Winter snorted and grabbed the tray from Kai.  “Let’s not be cruel.  One should never save cake for later when it can be eaten now.”
  • The rest of her friends were in their reserved seats in the front row.  Thorne, on the aisle, held out his hand as Cinder passed.  She snorted and accepted the high five before floating up the stairs.

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