Fairest is a bonus book in The Lunar Chronicles, specifically #3.5, and was released just before Winter, the grand finale. I have yet to read Winter but wanted to whet my appetite with this short novel, a backstory on Queen Levana – the series’ nemesis. The Lunar Chronicles is a young adult science-fiction series and a retelling of several fairy tales; it also includes a very specific Stars Wars character clone. Feiwel & Friends | Hardcover | 2015 | 220pp
Before we get to Winter (which is a behemoth at over 800 pages in hardcover format), author Marissa Meyer decided to give us the backstory on Queen Levana rather than making the final book any longer. Wise choice.
In Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress we’re regaled with three different fairytale-inspired women who come together against all odds in a futuristic empire of androids, robots, inter-planetary politics, and war. Cinder is based on Cinderella, but in this story she’s an android, half human and half robot. She left her whole robotic leg on the palace steps after running from the royal ball. Scarlet is based on Red Riding Hood, and there’s a genetically engineered wolf-boy out there who has turned against the evil queen to pursue his love interest. Cress is based on Rapunzel and for years she was trapped inside an orbiting satellite, forced to work as a hacker spy for the evil queen, until a Han Solo-type rescues her in his mighty ship.
Cinder happens to be the long-lost Princess Selene and rightful ruler of the Lunar colony which she didn’t discover until the end of the first book. Queen Levana had tried to kill her when she was a child and Cinder/Princess Selene was thought to be dead – but her severely injured body had been smuggled to Earth and rebuilt. Queen Levana is also trying to take over Earth with a bribe. She’ll give Earth the antidote they desperately need to cure a new plague, a disease Queen Levana purposefully created and unleashed. In exchange, she demands the hand of Prince Kai, Cinder’s love interest. The antidote will save mankind, but a marriage alliance will practically hand Earth over to the evil queen.
In Fairest, Marissa Meyer creates the story of Queen Levana in an ingenious way. It’s hard to hate her – she is that pitiful, but only at first. Queen Levana emerges as a diffident young princess but rises to become a completely unexpected juggernaut.
The Lunars were originally colonists on the moon but something in the atmosphere gave them unearthly powers over time. They have the paranormal ability to cloak themselves in beautiful apparitions with perfect skin, hair, and facial attributes – changeable at will. The most powerful Lunars can also exert mental influence over their subjects. Those who are not born with the powers of ‘glamour’ are immediately taken for testing and extermination.
Because this glamour does not work on cameras or mirrors, Queen Levana forbids both in her presence. But this only pertains to her on a personal level. In Fairest we find out why. The reader also finds out why she tried to have Princess Selene killed (the daughter of her older sister), the details of her climb to power and her rule, about the disease ravaging Earth, and why ‘shells’ – those born without power the power of glamour – are destroyed.
Queen Levana exhibits more cunning than cruelty, more acts of kindness when she could have been deadly, and above all wishes to protect her world and with that priority, she makes major sacrifices. As a royal child she was coddled in luxury, but lacked the empathy normally provided by interpersonal relationships, connections she never experienced. Because of this, she makes enormous mistakes – but ones that sometimes endear the reader because of the pity they create. On the other hand, Queen Levana knowingly commits several unforgivable atrocities such as mass murder, and no matter how much pity you feel for this character, there is no room for absolution.
Moving on to Winter, we’re now privy to Queen Levana’s darkest secrets and we’re familiar with her deep-seated motivation. We know what hides beneath the glamour and are familiar with her complete aversion to mirrors. We also know what she did to Princess Selene, aka Cinder.
I absolutely adore this series and I’m genuinely happy that I decided to read Fairest before Winter. I recommend that move to all. This is an absolutely stunning characterization.
by Marissa Meyer