Review and Discussion: The Lunar Chronicles

So this post was sitting in drafts all ready to go (for how many months now?), so I just pressed the publish button:

Having finally completed the series, I have decided to post my reviews from Goodreads here. Apparently I never wrote one for Scarlet. And if I ever read and review Wire and Nerves, I’ll probably come back and add it to this post.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Read from March 06 to 13, 2014

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was fun. A mix of sci-fi and fairytales. A fast-paced global plot, but not with enough substance to warrant discussion. I wish the author went more into the history but I suspect we bought her world because she kept it vague. Didn’t buy the romance that much, but the author never pushes it too far, and the characters were likable. So yay. Looking forward to reading the sequel!

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Read from March 31 to April 08, 2014

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)Cress by Marissa Meyer

Read from March 26 to April 03, 2015

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So. Much. Fun.

These books are just extremely fun to read. The writing is light and engaging (although I thought the middle part dragged somewhat) and the characters are engaging enough. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t terribly nuanced characters, the plot isn’t heavy or intricate, and there are no themes or hidden meanings anywhere. This series just promises a good time and delivers. But just because there’s no nuance, doesn’t mean that the characters are dull or too perfect or one-dimensional. And even if the plot is simple and sounds incredibly cheesy when you summarize it, I think the author sets you up for exactly what you’re going to get. It’s a fun space adventure.

(Spoiler Warning!) There are times when obvious plot points are obvious. In the first book, that Cinder was Princess Selene was so obvious that in the second book I was almost convinced that Scarlet was actually Princess Selene. But it was funny when the author addressed that in this book. It was funny that Kai was going down the same line of thought as I did. The author’s like, “No, really, reader, I am not trying to trick you.”

Cinder was the same as always. Level-headed and competent and doesn’t make any more of an impression that she previously did. I think I’ve enjoyed Scarlet and Cress a lot more. Excited to read the fourth book, because Winter sounds like she’s kind of crazy and would provide interesting chapters.

(Spoiler Warning!) Emperor Kai (I still think it would be hilarious if he was King Kai) continues to be kind of not-so-interesting. Like in the second book, I found his chapters the least interesting, because I mean I feel bad for him, but man he is in quite a depressing situation. Now that he’s off Earth, in the fourth book, hopefully he’ll have more to do than drown in a sea of hopelessness.

I did like Cress a lot though. She was kind of loopy, which I guess you can expect from being locked up for 7 years. And there wasn’t too much Scarlet in this book, but I guess this wasn’t her book. Wolf was less interesting here, but he was fine.

But finally, Thorne. I loved the character from the very first, but he kept being such an idiot that I’d given up on him, but finally, he’s forced to take responsibility of a crappy situation despite facing certain physical challenges, and I hadn’t expected he would play the role of the prince from Rapunzel, but he does not disappoint. And I totally got Rapunzel-Flynn Rider vibes from Cress and Thorne.

Looking forward to Winter!
Fairest: Levana’s Story (The Lunar Chronicles, #3.5)Fairest: Levana’s Story by Marissa Meyer

Read on March 22, 2016

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was surprised I liked this book so much. Maybe because it was short and I seem to have lost patience these days. Lol, but no, really, I think the fact that there was a big gap between reading this and reading Cress, and an even larger gap since I read the first two, helped.

I was able to view this book as if I was introduced to Levana for the first time. It starts out like one of those books about the younger princess, who is smarter and more motivated than her vain and flippant older sister, but is overlooked by her sister, who is mean and unfeeling. Add to that, a childhood accident that gave her scars and affected her sense of self-worth. The narrative starts out painting Levana as the underdog you want to root for. But at the same time, there is plenty of evidence that Levana is shallow too, she can also be a bit of a spoilt brat, she’s not as smart as she thinks she is, and she is definitely immature and entitled when it comes to the matter of love.

At first I was starting to be disappointed that Levana’s story was going to revolve around a guy. Another story about a woman turning into a villain because she was spurned? Except she wasn’t spurned… Levana just slowly turns more and more psychotic and deluded. The reader does get that, but the narrative is so sympathetic towards Levana that it’s hard not to get caught up in it.

I found myself getting surprised along with Levana when people start to fear her and get suspicious of her. Maybe it’s bad writing, given that it didn’t give away the people’s changing perception of her. Or maybe it’s great writing in that it came out of left field for the reader, just as it did for Levana. Probably somewhere in between. From what I do remember of her from the earlier books, the character in this book certainly seemed very different. I suppose the point was to paint her in a sympathetic light.

(Spoiler Warning!) Also, once I am able to get out of her POV and reflect on the story, I have to say it was actually a heartbreaking tragedy for Evret. The part where he explains why he married Levana – that he realized that he and his daughter would never be safe unless Levana got her way…as if the poor man didn’t already have plenty of heartbreak going around with his wife dying of childbirth. This is also where Levana’s level of psychotic-ness accelerates, when she deludes herself into thinking she must get rid of her husband for the good of her people. Even though she still loves him in her own twisted way. Actually, the narrative is still so sympathetic towards her, it makes me wish that maybe if there had been one person who truly loved Levana and could have been a true friend if things may have turned out differently. Evret could have been a true friend to be fair, but Levana was too messed up to accept his friendship and decided to mess with his mind and coerce him into a marriage.

At any rate, it was a quick read. And it felt refreshing to read from the perspective of a protagonist who is written about with the tone of a fairytale princess / YA underdog trope, but who is actually, kind of mental. I know Winter has been out of some time now, and I need to find the time to read that, but wondering how much of this story will be reflected in Winter.

Winter (The Lunar Chronicles #4)Winter by Marissa Meyer

Read from June 18 to 23, 2016

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

General Review
While I have thoroughly enjoyed this series as you can tell from my ratings, I also fully acknowledge that this falls under the category of what I call “popcorn books” (derived from “popcorn films”) which you read just for fun. They’re lighthearted and fun and they don’t make you think about any deep issues or raise any questions. And the biggest strength of this book series is that it was very aware of this fact.

I’m not saying that the series was just pure fun and fluff. It knew to inject just the right amount of substance so readers can take it seriously, but it does so in small doses. Yes, there are little bits of sci-fi elements what with their mass communications technology, cybernetics, artificial intelligence, and biosynthetic/biological warfare/genetic engineering research; but it’s all very much on-the surface and never goes into enough details such that you’ll start to question the validity of the science (looking at you Divergent series). It’s set centuries into the future in some kind of Third Era, decades after a Fourth World War, and simultaneously on a Lunar Colony on the Moon, where the people have developed bioelectricity manipulation skills, and once again, the author uses these to be very creative in her world building, but refrains from going in too deep, which would inevitably only raise more questions (still looking at you Divergent series). And it’s also not lighthearted and fun the whole way through. In fact, the overarching theme is about saving two worlds from a psychotic tyrant, there is death and destruction and mutilation, but the books never get dark and gritty. And that fits with the whole fairy-tale inspiration of each installment. When your books draw such heavy and overt inspiration from recognizable fairytales, you kind of want to keep the tone appropriately light.

Which is why it was a tad out of place when the final installment kind of tried to turn into The Hunger Games lite. Not only is the capital city Artemisia (and its residents) very reminiscent of the Capitol, and the outer sectors very reminiscent of the districts, the fourth book’s major plot (besides the Snow White influenced portions) involves a revolution by the oppressed class against the tyrannical rulers….inspired by a video message from a teenage girl (albeit the long lost rightful queen)? The reason the revolution plotline doesn’t work for me is because there is no slow build up to it like there is in The Hunger Games, very little understanding of the mentality of the revolutionaries, and a video message from the long lost queen is not the same as the small acts of defiance during the entirety of the 74th Hunger Games. Which is why I think the book would have been better served had the revolution bits been kept short.

The series may get criticism because the plot is so derived (long lost heir wins back the throne from the usurper) and the commentary is so old and tired (prejudice, discrimination, oppression in manners you have seen before many times), but I argue that these are not the focus of the series. They are there only to add just the right amount of substance to the real strength of the books – the creativity of the futuristic world, and the story set in space that weaves together plots from 4 famous Grimm’s Brother fairytales. I would almost say that the simplicity of the plot makes these books ideal for younger readers, with just enough substance to keep adults engaged, but there are enough violent and sensual passages that keeps in the YA section and not the children’s, even though the books aren’t wholly inappropriate for children.

Winter the Book and Winter the Character

Note: This may be spoilery; I will tag the major spoilers of course, but I might give away some minor things here and there.

It’s hard to say which is my favorite in the series since I read them so far apart. Maybe someday I need to marathon them all. But this was the book where I thoroughly enjoyed all the characters and none of them annoyed me. As was the case with its predecessors, each successive book in the series has less and less focus on the titular character since all the previous titular characters and their love-interests also need to receive some page-time. That being said, I liked what I read about Winter. Each one of the female (and male) protagonists are their own unique characters and each one of their stories follow their own unique fairytale inspired arcs.

Winter was less of a tough chick compared to Cinder and Scarlet, and didn’t have Cress’ mad hacker skills, but she was strong in her own way, trying to do what’s right, helping her people, and fighting her “Lunar sickness” and hallucinations. Her relationship with Jacin was also probably the most believable out of the bunch. There were many moments where Winter was stubbornly ignoring the need to distance herself from Jacin, and normally that would be annoying, but here it’s understandable because they literally grew up together and he was her best friend her whole life. This made it more believable than the insta-love plotlines many of the other couples had, especially Cinder and Kai. I never bought their romance in the first book, and their inexplicable strong feelings for each other in the subsequent books. In fact, in retrospect, that particular romance could have been cut out from the series and it wouldn’t have affected the plot because Cinder and Kai would have been brought together for political reasons regardless of their crush on each other. And it would have fit Cinder’s character better, because it makes no sense to me that she started swooning after the (then) Prince as soon as she saw him, but she’s immune to everyone else’s charms. (On that note, I thought it was cute that all the guys in the show are very much affected by Winter and not portrayed as so incredibly devoted that they won’t react to the prettiest girl in the world.) However, this lack of romance wouldn’t have worked for the fairytale theme we have going, so I guess it had to be there. But I do think that the fourth book was the place where the romance starts to get believable given the actual time they spent together and planning for a better future together, so maybe she could have saved the romance until this book.

Also, my least favorite character in the series had been Kai (I still wish he was King, just so I could call him King Kai) and I finally figured out why. He’s a damsel in distress. He spent every book being put in an incredibly difficult position which he can’t get himself out of it. He’s not a useless DID by any means, and he makes a valiant attempt to do the right thing while trying to not screw himself over, and sure, it’s a refreshing change to have a male DID who needs the female character to help him out of his distress, but I’m not about to discriminate when I say I’m not a fan of the DID plotline. In the fourth book, he has much more of an opportunity to be competent and effective and actually do stuff than alters the course of the story, and for once, being in the know, he had less of a helpless aura about him.

The Snow White Plotline (Spoilers!): I liked what the author did with the huntsman being the “prince”. He is ordered to kill her, but of course, he would do everything to stage the murder and help her escape in an attempt to protect her. I also liked what she did with the “prince” waking Snow White up twice, once from her stasis to give the letumosis cure, and the second time with a kiss to wake her up from her catatonic state.

The ending (Spoilers! Duh): It did not go at all how I’d predicted: Cinder would put Winter on the throne and then go off with Kai. Instead Cinder takes over as queen and plans to ultimately replace the monarchy with a republic. Kudos to that. But here’s another criticism that the series might receive: because of the fairytale nature of each character’s story, there is an obvious need to pair each one of them off with their prince, so that the entire crew paired up nicely (with the exception of the android Iko, but even she gets to have her snarky interactions with a hot guard), and they all live happily ever after. But once you get past the incredible neat pairing off of everyone, you’ll see that the endings are actually somewhat different from what you would expect from a lighthearted story from this. First of all, no one comes out of the books unscathed – whether they are genetically altered forever, maimed and disfigured, mentally damaged perhaps irreparably, or thrust into a difficult role with immense responsibility. Second of all, this one might not jump out obviously at first – but none of the four couples end up married. Two of them are officially together by the end, three are going to be together whether officially or not, all of them are going to be in touch, and they will probably all end up married at some point – but the stories actually end before any of them get married. These stories with very heavy fairy tale inspirations don’t end with “they got married and lived happily ever after”, but rather with “they can look forward to a better future and so lived happily ever after”. That was quite refreshing.

Stars Above (The Lunar Chronicles #4.5)Stars Above by Marissa Meyer

Read from: October 11 to 24, 2016

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I may have given this a higher rating if the stories were in different order, lol. I didn’t end up liking this as much as the regular series, but I get that these weren’t really meant to make up a complete work. These were just random short stories the author wrote for various occasions and she just compiled them here. I’ll just copy/paste my reading updates here.

13% “Story 1: The Keeper – First look at Scarlet’s grandmother. I think I would’ve enjoyed this more if I remembered small details from the books better.”

22% “Story 2: Glitches – This piece was quite good. It actually flowed quite well from the first piece. Was a first look at Linh Garan. Fully set up the stage for the first book. Also played up Cinders cyborg aspects, which is what I liked most about the character.”

31% “Story 3: The Queen’s Army – This was Wolf’s backstory. His name (Ze’ev) was shortened to Z here, I can’t remember if this was in the books…Also I vaguely remember a subplot involving his brother Ran, but I can’t seem to remember. Other than that, this story was just okay.”

43% “Story 4: Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky – I didn’t end up liking this as much as I thought I would. Mostly because it’s kind of just another high school story. But this was the most different of the bunch so far, and probably the first time we get to see America. Also, it sounds like his parents were wealthy? Somehow I wasn’t expecting that. It was also weird to have him be called Carswell.”

48% “Story 5: After Sunshine Passes By – And this one I liked more than I thought I would. Really not much happened and we didn’t learn much, but I still really felt for Cress.”

65% “Story 6: The Princess and the Guard – This was another interesting look at Lunar life, like how Lunars tend to use their gift casually in everyday life. Also, it was nice to get a look at Winter before she went crazy. Though, I was a little confused why she chose to completely stop using the gift, as in not even on herself. Lastly, I thought Jacin did do a medical internship; here it sounded like he never got the chance.”

78% “Story 7: The Little Android – I’m really having a lot of trouble with the whole android with human emotions plot Meyer seems to like. In Iko’s case, I tried not to think about it, but here it’s harder to ignore. But as an adaptation of The Little Mermaid this worked pretty good and had an appropriate ending. I remember Alex Flinn’s version in Bewitching which was actually quite upsetting.”

83% “Story 8: The Mechanic – This felt kinda unnecessary…Although I guess it gave us a look at how Kai’s insta-love went down, which makes it a tiny bit easier for me to buy it.”

100% “Story 9: Something Old, Something New – The “Epilogue” to the series of sorts. Started out quite interesting, though the politics is working out waaay too smoothly. And then….it got boring? And just served to remind me that despite a few attempts to be like The Hunger Games, this series just ended tied up in a nice little convenient bows.”

Final Thoughts
These books are harmless fun reads, and while they are not the most sophisticated or ambitious works, they are very welcome entertainment. I wasn’t sure whether to think of them as guilty pleasure or not, but I’ve concluded that I don’t feel guilty about enjoying these books, because there’s nothing problematic about the story, it is well-written, and written with a lot of love. (Okay, not the best piece of literature ever when it comes to writing, but I think the setting does enough magic and the writing doesn’t always need to. I say it’s well-written because the writing is engaging and entertaining. And I say it’s written with a lot of love because you can tell that the author really put a lot of effort into this and thoroughly enjoyed it.)

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