Novel * Marissa Meyer * Happy Large-Scale Atrocities Ever After * 2015
Since this is the fourth and final novel in this particular narrative, there’s very little point in protecting anyone from spoilers. If you are vested in these books, you’ve finished them. If not, you probably figured out that they’re not for you three books ago. Either way, there’s little to be gained in explaining what happened. That said, I think I’m fine with the ending. Obviously, from the very framing of these novels, the series could only end one way. If you base your stories on fairy tales and they don’t all live happily ever after, you’ve fucked up. No matter what happens over the course of the story, we know the good guys will prevail and the correct people will match up and evil will be vanquished, because that’s how fairy tales work. All manner of grisly shit can go down between the once upon a time and the happily ever after, of course, but we’re working within a framework here. However, we’re also working within a modern, sci-fi/fantasy framework as well, so in order for the happily ever after to work, it needs to be earned. Meyer succeeds in that, for the most part, and where she does not, it barely matters.
For the most part, I’ve quite enjoyed this series up until this novel, so you can imagine my consternation when the first couple hundred pages or so of Winter left me fairly cold. I’m not certain if it’s the pacing, or the backsliding into obnoxious young adult fiction romance tropes, or puzzling character choices, or if Winter’s character wasn’t quite up to par. Now that I write that all out, it’s clearly an amalgamation of those issues, none of which were negative enough to deter me from pushing through. It made me anxious, though, because one thing I’ve learned over the years is that closing a series out is hard. And when an author really biffs it, it can put a damper on what came before. Perhaps that’s not entirely fair to the preceding material, but while reading the beginning of Winter, I was legit worried. What if this was a Divergent situation? As it happens, it is not. Eventually the pacing picks up, the romantic relationships stabilize, and I finally got behind Winter as a character. Meyer gets there in the end, which is great because The Lunar Chronicles make for some excellent summer reading and now I can recommend them in good conscience.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the series, I can give you my definitive ranking for the principal characters. First, of course, is Cinder. She’s had the most time to be properly fleshed out, and her arc is fairly well-realized. I’m not sure if I mentioned it last time or not, but it bears repeating. Over the course of the four novels, Cinder has grown from someone whose default mode was to be as invisible as possible to a true leader. This growth has been subtle, which I really appreciate. There were scenes in Winter where I noticed that Cinder was just chirping out orders, without the internal waffling and uncertainty that had been haunting her ever since she realized that she’s royalty. When I noticed that I was both impressed with the writing and also kind of proud of this fictional character. Like, yeah, you got it. Leadership is “simply” the courage to make the best decisions you can and to stand by them, regardless of the outcome. When she fucks up, she owns it. When she succeeds, she gives credit where it’s due. By the end, Cinder has the conviction to do what she knows is right and in so doing wins over not just her crew, but her future subjects. Even on the precipice of failure, Cinder comes to her leadership honestly. When the day is finally won, she deserves her new role and approaches it as you’d expect.
After Cinder comes Cress, because I will always have a soft spot for the socially awkward making good despite having to overcome intense social anxiety. I know that Cress is extremely anime, and that her base characterization is probably the most well-worn trope, but whatever. I identify with that trope. Besides, I’m on record proclaiming that I don’t care how often a particular character type or plot device is used, so long as it’s done well. And Cress is great. She was instrumental in saving the day, she displayed deep courage and honesty, and she got her boy. What’s not to like? After Cress, Winter grew on me to the point of coming in third. Since she only really came along in the final book, she had the least amount of time to grow as a character. Despite that, she was generally fun to read. I’m not sure I’m fully on board with the whole dissociative aspect of her personality, but Winter has her own offbeat sense of humor that I enjoy.
I never really came around on Scarlet. Look, she’s fine. Also, I understand that her character was M.I.A. for most of an entire novel, which really cut into her screen time. I was just so completely bored with her relationship with Wolf that I kind of checked out of most of her scenes. Her best moments were those shared with Winter, and quite honestly Winter carried most of those. Scarlet is just kind of… mad a lot. I get it, she’s a fiery redhead and whatnot, but that’s about as deep as she gets. Also, more so than the other ladies, Scarlet seems defined by her relationship with Wolf. As we’ve seen, Cinder’s growth is the most pronounced and Kai is just kind of in awe of her most of the time. As he should be. Meanwhile, Cress had a childlike crush on Thorne from the onset, but over the course of the last two books she grew as a character first, and then naturally won Thorne because of her radness. Most importantly, Cress didn’t change and grow because of the boy, she changed and grew because the situation demanded it and she had the internal strength to accommodate that situation. The boy was secondary. Winter had a preexisting relationship with Jacin, of course, and most of her story has to do with controlling her madness long enough to help overthrow Levana. By contrast, Scarlet and Wolf spent the vast majority of the series pining for each other because they’re immediately co-dependent. Which is not great.
The Lunar Chronicles are one long fairy tale, obviously, so we know from the onset that everyone lives happily ever after. That’s great! Especially since I thoroughly enjoyed the principal characters and I feel like they deserve their happiness. Everyone is in love, and of course despite being teenagers they will remain so forever and ever. So, our protagonists are happily paired off and are enjoying their new lives of freedom and responsibility. That’s all well and good, but let us not forget the horrifying state of the world. Like, these eight people get to live happily ever after, but what of the teeming masses?
Turns out society is still super racist against cyborgs, despite Kai restoring them to mostly-human status. Meanwhile, this plague is still sweeping through humanity, and it’s going to take a while to get the cure out to the masses. And guess who’s going to benefit from the cure first? Oh you know it’s rich people. Then, you’ve got the fallout from the Lunar regime change. Earthen society isn’t exactly going to openly embrace the people who spent the last however many weeks sending genetically engineered monsters randomly into cities to kill tens of thousands of people. Oh, and then you’ve got the Lunars, who are getting that mind-control chip in their skull whether they want it or not, also they’ve got a huge ideological change coming up with Cinder’s new regime. On the one hand I’m glad Meyer didn’t attempt to wrap all this up with a cute little bow at the end. On the other, it never really seemed like the narrative took the large-scale atrocities enacted under both societies particularly seriously. In the end it barely matters. This is a character driven story, and so the happily-ever-after remains satisfying… if you don’t think about it too hard.