Winter brings The Lunar Chronicles to a satisfying close, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s a bit sprawling as all of the threads get tied up. However, unlike some final books to a series, it feels complete, well thought out, and not rushed. It’s just going to take over 800 pages to get to everything, what with four different female protagonists and their love interests.
Although “Snow White” has been a theme throughout the series, it really comes to the forefront in this book as Winter, Levana’s beautiful stepdaughter, becomes one of our main characters. Like the other books, it’s full of breadcrumbs for fairy tale fans, but they don’t overwhelm the story and they’re tied in pretty naturally.
You definitely need to read the series in order, and if you have the time and patience, rereading everything would be a bonus. Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress are required reading. Fairest fills in useful backstory, but isn’t absolutely necessary.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Violence, Mind Control, Torture, and Death
If your kid has handled the previous books, this one isn’t significantly worse. But there are consequences for going to war against an evil mind-controlling queen, and our characters pay many of those. Injuries are severe, fingers are lost, minor but sympathetic characters die. Those deaths matter, too—they’re felt for the rest of the book, as are some of the deaths from earlier books.
In case you’ve forgotten just how awful Levana is, the book opens with her condemning someone to death—at their own hand. Through mind control, a father cuts his own throat for the crime of trying to save his child. Such executions are entertainment for her court, and Winter is required to watch them. Of course later Levana also tries to have her stepdaughter killed (Winter is Snow White, after all). She thinks nothing of killing, torturing, enslaving, or doing whatever seems most cruel to anyone who gets in her way or even slightly interferes with her plans.
Cinder and Scarlet learn to kill—it’s what needs to happen in order to win the war and to protect the people they love. Cinder is painfully aware that this war endangers…well, pretty much everyone she cares even slightly about. And she struggles with what price she’s willing to pay, and to let others pay, to defeat Levana. Cress and Winter never get to the point where killing is something they can do. They are absolutely not warriors and even when pushed to the brink it isn’t easy for them to harm others—in fact, they can only do so when people they love are in immediate danger of death. Neither would kill another to save themselves.
Cress is in what’s essentially a wheelchair at the end because of her injuries, although it’s expected that she’ll recover with time. Cinder very nearly dies, too. There is so much death of nameless characters—the war takes a terrible toll. Once the rebellion starts, there are bodies everywhere.
Winter refuses to use her lunar gift—she has seen what mind control, even when used for supposedly good purposes, can do and she refuses to use it. However, this is slowly deteriorating her mind. She has hallucinations, frequently that she’s turning into ice or that the walls are bleeding. She can see and touch and hear things that aren’t there. Most people dismiss her as useless—Scarlet, mostly fondly, calls her Crazy. Left to her own devices, she may very well end up harming or killing herself due to her visions. However, she’s sweet and childlike and stunningly beautiful, so she’s well loved by almost everyone.
When Jacin, the man she loves, is about to be killed, Winter breaks down and uses her mind control. It pretty much breaks her utterly. She’s restrained with straps and then, before she’s allowed to leave the hospital, she’s fitted with things that will shock her “for her safety.” She tends to agree these things are necessary, but Jacin is horrified by them. At the end of the book, there’s talk that she may be able to be fitted with something that will suppress her gift, thereby hopefully allowing her to recover. Jacin is nervous about this, fearing that it will also suppress who she is. He loves her as she is and argues with her when she says she’s broken. This issue isn’t really resolved—there’s no easy answer for the things that torture Winter’s mind.
Beauty and Monsters
Winter, who refuses to use glamours, is naturally incredibly beautiful which stands out all the more in a world where most beauty is illusion. She has three scars on her cheek, given to her by Levana who hoped that disfiguring her face would ruin her beauty. On the contrary, it somehow draws more attention to her beauty. Levana’s glamour is also very beautiful, but it’s a study in contrasts. Levana is very pale, whereas Winter has warm brown skin and black curls. Winter, in all of her natural glory, outshines Levana’s best glamours.
Cinder is also seen as beautiful, at least by Kai. She learns to stop hiding her cyborg parts, although it’s still a struggle. She’s happiest in greasy overalls with her hair in a ponytail, but she learns to dress up as is expected of her. She’s never comfortable with it, though.
Levana has always made sure no one can see her without her glamour, because she is horribly disfigured thanks to terrible burns she received as a child. Part of what brings about her downfall is Cinder showing a video of her, since glamours don’t show up in recorded images. Everyone can see what she truly looks like, and that’s the moment when the tide really shifts. I might have liked to see this explored a little more deeply, but Cinder does reflect on the fact that Levana is also a victim, just like Cinder is. She also notes that it isn’t the scars that make Levana a monster—it’s her actions that do that. You can also read between the lines to see that the awful thing about people seeing what she really looks like is Levana’s thoughts about that, not what anyone else actually thinks. People might not care that much, but Levana cares and therefore it hurts her. Still, it wouldn’t be too hard to interpret this as Levana’s scars making her a monster, so this might be worth talking over with your kids.
Captured by the Lunars, Wolf undergoes more surgeries to become even more wolf-like. He’s horrified and assumes that Scarlet will hate and fear him, much as he hates and fears himself. But she’s already seen the person inside the wolfish exterior, and she trusts in his love for her. They’ll probably have some challenges ahead of them, but they are each other’s alphas, they are part of a pack, and they will get through it together.
Iko is in some ways very vain, but her vanity is kind of a personality quirk and never seen as a flaw. This helps the book avoid the pitfall of having it be a fault if people care how they look. Our heroes run the gamut on the vanity scale and it’s all acceptable.
Kissing, Love, and Marriage
The only marriage in the book is Kai to Levana, and we all know that’s a political move made under duress. It’s explicitly stated that the marriage is never consummated. Kai thinks about proposing to Cinder, but she’s not ready for that yet. They’re definitely going to explore a future together, but the end of the story doesn’t necessarily mean everything is tied up quite that neatly.
There’s a good bit of kissing and each couple is very attracted to each other. Some of the kissing happens on a bed and sometimes with clutching of clothing, but there’s nothing explicit—nothing more is really hinted at, either.
It’s hinted that one of the bad guys misuses women. It’s not more explicit than that, but I know where my brain went.
Each book is named after one of the female lead characters, but the men are more than just love interests. They have their own story arcs and they grow and change through the novels. Even though there’s a lot of characters to cover in this book, they all grow and change. Each male lead character is different from the others, with different strengths and personalities, even though they’re somewhat secondary, especially to Cinder and Winter in this novel.
By the end, it’s a group of friends and allies. Each serves his or her purpose and it’s more than filling a stereotype in the plot.
Class conflict is an underlying theme throughout. On Luna, the main city with the palace is beautiful and elaborate and luxurious. As will be familiar to anyone who reads dystopias, the outer areas are much worse off—people going hungry, dying from the dust from the mines where they work, etc. Levana seems to think they will all love her because she’s beautiful and says she’s doing things for the good of all of Luna, but she can only keep them under control through violence and ignorance. Cinder incites these people to rebel against Levana’s rule, and they’re willing to die for a better future.
Androids and cyborgs continue to face issues of discrimination, but Cinder and Iko are helping people take some steps to combat that. Cinder also works to make sure the shells—Lunars without the gift—are treated fairly and reunited with their families.
Cinder frequently wonders about what sacrifices should be made for the greater good. She’s well aware that every choice she makes has repercussions for someone. Kai has to do the same, balancing his own wellbeing against the good of his country against the good of all of Earth. It’s a lot of responsibility to carry around and there are no good answers.
In the end, Cinder decides that she must transition Luna away from a monarchy/dictatorship. There must be checks and balances in a world where people can be mind controlled—it’s too dangerous for one person to have so much power.
Cinder and Kai work toward creating alliances between Luna and Earth, but there are understandably concerns about how that’s going to work out.
This is a good, if messy, conclusion to the series. I appreciated that the “happily ever after” went as far as ensuring all of our protagonists survived and ended up more or less with their respective loves, but I also appreciated that even though the threads were tied off, they’re still frayed and knotted. Things aren’t perfectly arranged. There are lasting negative consequences from everything they’ve been through. Cinder doesn’t magically turn into a princess, even though that would have brought some threads together very neatly. And she’s a better ruler in many ways because she’s reluctant and because she wasn’t raised to it. There’s no implication that marriage will somehow solve everything—in fact, no one is engaged. They’re just committed to figuring out what a future together looks like.
I adore this series, and I would have been devastated if this last book was disappointing, as so often happens. I understand that it’s hard to bring a series to a close, and Marissa Meyer has done a masterful job. It’s a must read for anyone who has made it this far, and it should be suitable for any reader who’s made it this far.