Book review: Winter by Marissa Meyer

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Image from goodreads.com

I suppose it was bound to happen. When you’ve got a book series with as many dangling plot threads and as dense of a mythology as The Lunar Chronicles, it’d be nigh impossible to wrap it up in a way that satisfies every reader. Winter takes a few missteps, but overall does a pretty good job.

Winter picks up where Cress left off. Most of the action takes place on Luna, which in previous books (minus Fairest) seemed like a mysterious, far-off, quasi-fantastical place. Kai is still betrothed to Levana’s crazy ass, and convinces her to hold the ceremony to Luna. This conveniently brings all our main players to Luna, where Cinder and co start their revolution. Meanwhile, the Snow White retelling unfolds against this backdrop, with the story beats cleverly woven into the Lunar revolution storyline. The plot moves at a quick clip with lots of action and intrigue, and despite the book’s massive length, it doesn’t feel as long as it is. As with the previous books, there’s a nice bit of gender role inversion, with the men more often in “damsel in distress” roles than the women. Kai spends most of the book cooling his heels in the palace, trying to keep his cray cray fiancée from killing him long enough for Cinder to start her revolution. Wolf and Thorne take turns needing to be rescued by the women. And of course, loo loo Levana is doing a lot of the plotline’s heavy lifting.

Unfortunately, packing three books’ worth of plot buildup into one tome (even one this massive) leaves little room for much else, and I’d say the storyline that suffers the most is, ironically, the titular one. Of all the romances in the Lunar Chronicles, Winter and Jacin’s rings least true to me. Though some other reviews I’d read had more trouble with Thorne and Cress, I actually was OK with them, but I also love Thorne and am biased, so there’s that. But Thorne and Cress still made more sense to me as a couple than Ron and Hermione, so whatever. Yeah, I went there.

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Part of the problem I had with Winter and Jacin is that, quite frankly, I just could not care about Jacin. There just didn’t seem to be much to him as a character, except for his devotion to Winter, because if I were to do the character challenge in Harry S. Plinkett’s Star Wars reviews, I honestly couldn’t think of anything more to say about him. There’s also a little incident that I will not spoil other than posting this gif:

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Luke would not approve of Jacin (also, Luke is about 134124324 times more interesting of a character, as well).

Winter fares slightly better in the development and likeability quotient. Winter is crazy, but she’s crazy in a largely harmless way, from years of refusal to use her Lunar gift. Mostly she goes around spouting gibberish and suffering brief hallucinations, and is otherwise a functional human being. Her interactions with Scarlet are particularly amusing, as Scarlet seems to be one of the few who isn’t entranced by Winter’s stunning beauty and gets frustrated with babysitting the weirdo sometimes. I could’ve watched a buddy comedy featuring the adventures of Scarlet and Winter.

Winter and Jacin’s romance also underwhelmed. We’re pretty much told right off the bat that Winter and Jacin have always loved each other, but they never acted on it because she’s a princess and he’s a guard and Levana, being crazier than a shithouse rat, would kill them. In fact, she really does try to kill Winter by ordering Jacin to do it as a test of his loyalty. Of course he fakes Winter’s death and helps her escape with Scarlet, in accordance with the Snow White storyline. But because Jacin and Winter spend much of the book apart, we don’t get to see their romance grow and develop as we did with the other couples. Fictional romances simply don’t interest me unless we actually see them fall in love and work out their issues, rather than being told they’re in love and simply kept apart by external obstacles.

I had fewer issues with the Lunar revolution storyline, which was exciting but also descended pretty quickly into dystopian cliché territory. As a reader who isn’t bothered by clichés as long as they’re executed well, I was mostly OK with this. It was standard evil-dictator fare, the upper classes living in luxury while the overworked laborers in the outer sectors starved in squalid conditions. I did think the masses were a little quick to follow Cinder after a few Buffy Summers-esque rousing speeches, but I let it slide because the plot needed to keep moving and looking for a super-realistic account of a revolution in a YA novel is as futile as looking for historical accuracy on a CW show. The overuse of Lunar mind control began to grate after a while, too, demonstrating the pitfalls of an essentially unbeatable weapon. Even Superman had Kryptonite, but there’s no way for anyone to fight the thaumaturges’ mind control unless they’re super accomplished with their gift. Cinder managed to Luke Skywalker her way to that level over the past couple of books, but she was still greatly outnumbered by Levana’s forces most of the time.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the plot was how easily Levana was defeated after being one step ahead of the gang this whole time. Team Good Guys pulled a deux ex machina out of their asses that was really, really weak (from a storytelling perspective), and undermined all of Levana’s character development in Fairest. I get that it was keeping with the Snow White theme, but fairy tales are essentially children’s stories—if you’re going to expand the storylines into something more complex, you’ve got to do the same with the characters. Fairy tale characters are archetypes, and you can’t build a complex character just to push them back into the archetype when it’s convenient. So yeah, Levana’s defeat was extremely anticlimactic. #justiceforlevana

Winter also suffers from Alias syndrome in the sense that no one dead actually stays dead, unless the plot needs them to stay dead. It’s kind of hard to keep the stakes high when you never know if this death is actually going to stick or not.

It probably seems like I did a lot of bitching just to give this 4 stars, but being trope-y and having plot holes you could fly a Rampion through really doesn’t bother me all that much, despite my incessant need to point them out in great detail. One of this series’ greatest strengths is its characters (which is partly why Jacin’s boring ass annoyed me so much—bro, you are dragging down an otherwise great cast with your boringness) which is what kept me reading and handwaving all the shit that didn’t make sense. I even enjoy Levana’s crazysauce because she makes a great villain, one that deserved a more epic demise than the one she got. So if you, like me, love these characters and can overlook some plot messiness and a crappy romantic subplot (because despite the book being named after Winter, her plotline felt very much like a subplot), Winter is worth the read.

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