I had to check out the Lunar Chronicles after hearing so many good things, and I have to say, the series did not disappoint. I keep meaning to write proper reviews for them all, so naturally instead of starting at the beginning I start with Fairest.
Fairest tells the back story of our villain Queen Levana while ostensibly setting up for Winter, the last book in the series. Fairest is novella-length and a quick read. Although it is chronologically a prequel, I would not recommend reading it before the other books, as it will spoil some reveals in those books, and will diminish the impact of Levana as an unreliable narrator. I would also suggest not reading this review if you haven’t read the other books, since this review will contain some spoilers (but I will try not to spoil Fairest itself).
Levana’s rise to villainy is a trope-y one, but it is nonetheless entertaining. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that she’s not all there, if you catch my drift. Despite her narration, the disconnect between her reality and everyone else’s is still clear, and every time she tried to justify her actions I was like
Levana’s story follows a time-honored villain trope: villain suffers trauma, develops a warped idea of love and relationships, and as a result pushes away everyone who cares about them while simultaneously turning to the dark side for the love and acceptance they crave. While clichés are often disparaged when it comes to writing, there’s a reason why some, such as this one, are so enduring. It humanizes our villain yet not so much that we actually start to sympathize with and root for them instead (this technique does not always work if said villain is male and fangirls are attracted to him) and also sets them up as a foil for the hero. The parallels between Levana and Selene/Cinder are anvil-sized, to quote J.K. Rowling. The difference, of course, is that Cinder isn’t completely loo loo.
It’s clear that Levana was part of a severely dysfunctional family from the beginning. Her parents are murdered when she and her sister Channary are still children, yet neither sister seems particularly affected by it. Channary is a complete sociopath, and it seems the only living being she ever really cared for is her daughter, Selene, and possibly Selene’s father although we do not learn the details. In addition, Levana suffered trauma as a young child and grew up with severe burn scars on her face and body.
Unfortunately, Levana doesn’t turn to witchcraft, but she does get really skilled at glamours. In fact, she never lets anyone see what she really looks like, because she’s convinced she’ll be rejected. These insecurities follow her into her first and most significant romantic relationship, a Shakespearean tragedy of a tale that left me feeling terribly sorry for Evret, the object of her affections, and for his daughter, Winter. Levana never seems to realize that her selfish and delusional ideas of love are what pushes everyone she cares about away from her, and, being surrounded by yes-men, only becomes even more convinced of her own delusions.
Levana’s belief in her own invincibility continues to grow as she gets away with more and more heinous acts, culminating in the murder of her own niece, Selene, in order to clear her path to the throne. As a reader, you already know this woman is stone cold, it is nonetheless incredibly chilling to read as Levana calmly and detachedly plots the murder of an infant (and said infant’s nanny). However, even as she does all these terrible things, Levana still tries to protect her family in her own warped way, her last tie to her humanity.
Fairest is a fairly predictable read if you’re familiar with villain tropes and have read the other books in the Lunar Chronicles, but it nonetheless kept me turning the e-pages on my e-reader, if only because I was dying to see how the inevitable would materialize. The trip through Levana’s mind is a morbidly fascinating one, and sheds some light on why she’s the way she is. There are some questions in Fairest which are never answered, such as why Channary and Levana’s parents were killed (I just feel like there’s more going on here than “crazy shell gets inside the castle and kills people,” or else Luna really does have the worst security ever), who Selene’s father is and how Channary ended up dying of such a rare ailment, but I assume those will be answered in Winter (at least, I hope so). Overall, Fairest did what it set out to do, and provides a solid addition to the Lunar Chronicles series.