Book Riot Challenge: Winter

For the challenge to read a book over five hundred pages, I chose Winter by Marissa Meyer. This book is the fourth and final instalment in the Lunar Chronicles, a set of futuristic, science fiction retellings of fairy tales. 

The first book, Cinder, is, predictably, a Cinderella retelling set in New Beijing after the fourth world war. As a cyborg, Cinder deals with the effects of being a second class citizen and, after the death of her adoptive father, her wicked step mother and sister. In addition, the world is being ravaged by a plague called Letumosis. The only cure for Letumosis is known by the Lunars, a colony of humans with special powers living on the moon. Emperor Kai of New Beijing is pressured to form an alliance with the Lunars to receive the antidote. However, it seems that Queen Levana of Luna has her own motives. When her step sister contracts the plague, her evil step mother sends Cinder to be used as a test subject for a Letumosis antidote. From here, we follow Cinder as she attempts to save Emperor Kai from the evil Queen Levana, and as she searches for an antidote.

The next book, Scarlet, is loosely based on the Little Red Riding Hood story. She lives happily with her grandmother in the south of France, but her life is thrown into chaos when a group of Lunar soldiers ravage her town, and her grandmother goes missing. Meanwhile, we also follows Cinder’s story as she continues on her quest to defeat Queen Levana and find the Letumosis cure. Though it starts off as a Little Red Riding Hood retelling, it certainly also mirrors Beauty and the Beast at times.

Cress is a Rapunzel retelling. As a citizen of Luna born with no special powers, Cress is forced to live aboard a satellite and to use her skills as a computer technician for the spies of Queen Levana and her followers. Again, we also follow Cinder and Scarlet on their quest to discover what secrets would help them to defeat Levana and save the Letumosis sufferers of Earth. 

Winter is the final instalment of the series and it follows Levana’s step daughter, Princess Winter, or Snow White, as she deals with life in Levana’s court. A traumatic experience at a young age has encouraged Winter never to use her Lunar “gift” again. Meanwhile, we follow Cinder, Scarlet and Cress as all four come together to battle Levana and get the antidote.

WARNING: spoilers ahead. 

This series has so much drama and action, I struggled to put it down! There is never a dull moment in this last instalment and I was not disappointed. I love a book with kick-ass female characters and this book was full of them! I sometimes got a little confused about what was happening and a little overwhelmed with the action so perhaps it could actually have done with a break from the action every so often.

Throughout the whole series, but particularly the time on Luna, there is an underlying theme of humanity. Right from the start we see that Cinder is a cyborg and therefore a second class citizen. She is ashamed of this and tries to hide it. Little does she know that she is a cyborg because she was almost killed by her evil aunt, Queen Levana, and she is actually Princess Selene of Luna! Humans feel threatened by cyborgs’ enhanced limbs and brains. Cinder herself becomes dependent on certain functions of her brain, unavailable to average humans. There is a constant battle to create a world in which humans and enhanced humans can live together as one human race.

Humanity is also brought into question in Iko’s character. As an android with a personality chip default, she shows incredibly human characteristics. This creates a debate about machines taking over humans. Should androids like Iko really exist, or should they be destroyed when they start to show human characteristics? But once an android has these characteristics, is it in humane to ‘kill’ someone who is emotionally, if not physically, a human?

It is also addressed most clearly in the Lunar gift. Throughout all novels, but particularly the last one, humans are used as puppets. Does forcing a person to act against their will take away their humanity? Is doing so for their own good really a good thing? Throughout Winter struggles with these thoughts, and Meyer does a terrific job of making readers also question them. 

There are four key romantic relationships throughout this series: Cinder and Kai, Scarlet and Wolf, Cress and Thorne, and Winter and Jacin. All young adult books nowadays seem to include romances. Is it just me, or if you were concentrating on saving the Earth would you have time for romance? I’m always a little sceptical about how quickly and conveniently romances begin during young adult books, and how these relationships always seem to end well. When you’re breaking into the queen’s palace as part of a plan to overthrow a villainous dictator, Cress and Thorne, do you really think it’s a good idea to stop, kiss and discuss the dynamics of your relationship? How poorly timed! (Anyone else remember Jace’s condom in City of Heavenly Fire?) Though I approached at least a couple of these relationships with some scepticism, Meyer had me caring for each one and wishing for their happy ending. My favourite couple was Winter and Jacin, as we got to see how their relationship developed from childhood. No instalove here!

Speaking of happy endings: what a fantastic fight scene at the end! Cinder came face to face with Levana and it was like a Harry-Voldemort stand-off but with mind control. Until Scarlet and the others arrived. They had no shield against the Lunar mind control – they merely became pawns for Levana’s use. And Cinder, never believe the villain when they tell you they’ve changed and seen the error of their ways. They never have. 

I’m not convinced that the transition from the final battle scene to the chat with Scarlet’s friend in Paris was a particularly good one. We readers were left not knowing how the scene ended and were left hearing from a character we care very little about. Though we were all presumably happy that all our favourite characters lived, I struggled to believe it. These characters were in so much danger for the duration of four hefty novels and they all conveniently lived. I’ll put this down to them being fairytale retellings though, and am just happy for the characters.

Finally, a small criticism I have of the ending is the lack of closure for poor Winter. She wasn’t there during the final battle between Levana and Cinder and I wish she’d had a part in that. She lived with Levana her entire life up until that point and so suffered her rule for many years. I would’ve liked for her to come and stab her from behind when Cinder started to believe Levana had surrendered. I would’ve like for her to have had more closure. 

Overall I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any YA reader with a love of fairy tales, science fiction tales, or both.

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