For those of you not in the know, Melissa Meyer’s latest addition to the Lunar Chronicles just came out on January 27th. Fairest is more of a prequel than a sequel in the series, and came as a surprise to readers who were expecting to get their hands on the final book, Winter, around this time.
We’re all familiar with this sort of delay. The author says that the series will be done in three books, and before you know it they’re adding fan-guides that push back the final installation’s release date, and saying that it’s a natural part of the story when it’s nothing more than superficial information–interesting to have, on occasion, but nothing we really need.
And, to be perfectly honest, I had similar expectations for Fairest, though naturally I knew it would be a bit more than a compilation of facts presented throughout the books. I mean, writing stories from the POV of the villain has been done before, and it would be a bit jarring for Levana, the antagonist of the series, to suddenly seem oh-so-likeable and a victim of circumstance. This story was necessary, however, because it helps give Levana depth. If we go on the information from the Lunar Chronicles, the queen of Luna is manipulative, ruthless, and without morals–after all, she did try to kill her young niece so she could secure the throne.
Okay, well, in that sense, Levana is a little bit redeemed. More than that, she is given some dimension. My feel of Levana from the books was of some manipulative, cruel woman, barely even a person. And while that description may be somewhat true, we can understand how she got there, and maybe even why she has so many issues, especially involving appearance.
For instance, the book illustrates that Levana does, indeed, have a heart, or at least she used to. She can’t be described as tender-hearted, but she does express romantic notions, even if those notions are unhealthy and unrealistic. It may help that Levana has her older sister, Channary, to be compared against in terms of personality. Channary is dead at the time the book series begins, so we only learn about her through what characters have been told, or rumors. Fairest is set in a time when she is ascending to the throne, while Levana stands in the background, her lifelong victim (I’d go into more detail, but that might give too much away–let’s just say that Channary is the root of Levana’s bigger forms of neurosis). Levana repeatedly mentions her desire to be the “fairest queen Luna had ever seen,” and all her actions are to strengthen Luna’s position and make it thrive, even though her actions end up causing Luna more problems. It’s not like she’s being deliberately evil–she sees all her actions as being towards the prosperity of her kingdom. Channary, on the other hand, is portrayed as careless and purposefully cruel, with no higher ideas driving her actions than her own amusement and pleasure. In the weight of things, Levana is definitely a better queen, though over time what seem like reasonable policies become increasingly aggressive and authoritarian.
Take, for example, the situation with the Shells (Lunars without the gift of mental manipulation). When the Lunar Chronicles start, they are hated because the Lunar government claims they are dangerous to their society and must be killed (in reality, imprisoned and functioning as the source of an antidote). Levana is directly involved in this decision, seeing it as a logical choice involving an already devalued minority. The Lunar Chronicles certainly doesn’t moralize, but you can’t help but feel that something is being said here about dehumanizing others and making logical decisions instead of emotional ones.
Another theme Meyer touches upon is unhealthy relationships, specifically when one party is manipulating the other into being in the relationship and taking advantage of that–in this case, Levana and her late husband. As princess and then queen, Levana holds a great deal of power over Evrett, in addition to being more powerful in her Lunar gift, which allows her to manipulate his feelings. After Evrett’s wife dies, Levana makes her move, having convinced herself that the kindness he shows her demonstrates that he loves her. No matter how Evrett tries to dissuade her, she continues with this delusion. This is one of the first examples of Channary’s influence on Levana–Levana has never been treated kindly, so at the first sign she immediately latches onto it and believes it means more.
Fairest has a lot of value as far as making the antagonist more complex, though I don’t know if this sort of approach to it would work in another series in such a beneficial way. Meyer’s record of posting short stories about characters that didn’t function as the focus of the novel in the past has really fleshed out her world, and Fairest is just a longer version that leads the reader into the final book.
So, in the meantime:
You can find a local bookstore at which to purchase Fairest here. If you’ve read it, let us know what you think in the comments!