WARNING! This review WILL contain spoilers for earlier books in the series. Do NOT keep reading this review if you’re not caught up, having read all three previous books! There are also some minor spoilers for this book, but if you skip my list of dislikes, you’ll avoid them.
Winter was one of the books I was most anticipating in the second half of 2015. Marissa Meyer’s retellings of Grimm fairy tales with a clever YA sci-fi dystopian twist just kept getting better with every book. I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the first book in the series, Cinder, where Cinderella is a cyborg mechanic who falls for the son of the emperor, and turns out to be the long lost, believed to be dead princess of the moon. In book 2, Scarlet, we meet our Red Riding Hood, French farm girl Scarlet Benoit, looking for her missing grandmother. She meets Cinder, now an international fugitive on the run with spaceship captain Carswell Thorne. Scarlet also falls for a biologically augmented Lunar super soldier, her Wolf and they both join in Cinder’s seemingly impossible quest to reclaim her throne. In book 3, the little band of rebels liberate the evil Lunar queen’s secret weapon, tech genius Cress (our Rapunzel) from a spy satellite orbiting Earth. Cress and a blinded Thorne have to traverse the desert together to reunite with the others, and Cress’ initial crush on the captain, based on fantasies she made up when alone on her satellite, become actual infatuation as she spends more time with him.
When Winter begins, Cinder has prevented Queen Levana’s wedding to Emperor Kai by kidnapping him. He is working with Cinder and the others on a plan to depose Levana and restore Cinder (or Selene – her birth name), but the rebels have also lost someone dear to them. Scarlet has been taken prisoner by Lunar soldiers and the gang don’t know if she’s alive or dead. She’s actually being held captive in the zoo in the Lunar capital, kept alive by the kindness of princess Winter, Levana’s stepdaughter.
Winter is our Snow White, “fairest of them all” on Luna, despite, or possibly because of the scars marring her cheek (forced on her by her jealous stepmother). Winter is the only Lunar who refuses to use her gift to manipulate the minds and perceptions of others, never using glamour or trying to influence actions, and as a result, she is slowly going insane. She has moments of lucidity and is clearly quite clever, but also episodes where she has to focus to hold it together, as she vividly feels herself turning to ice and shattering or sees the palace walls running with blood. More alarming than your run of the mill panic attack. The daughter of a palace guard, Winter became a reluctant member of palace royalty when her father married Levana. Crazy or not, she’s forced to be present in the throne room every time her stepmother sentences anyone, making herself seem unaffected by the bloody spectacle.
Winter is terrified that Levana will execute Jacin, the royal guard she grew up with and has loved pretty much always (Winter, not Levana obvs.). Jacin is accused of treason and siding with Cinder and the other rebels, but manages to convince the queen that he was spying on them after he reveals some very incriminating information about them. He is punished, then re-instated as a royal guard, given the task to personally guard Winter (and make sure she is kept under control and from making scenes in public).
Kai is returned to his home in the next level of the plan to topple Levana and restore Cinder as Luna’s rightful queen. He convinces Levana to move the wedding to Luna, allowing his ship to smuggle Cinder and her crew along. Of course, everything starts going pretty seriously wrong shortly after the ship lands in the Lunar capital and Cinder and several of friends are separated. Kai is taken into house arrest, safe at least until after the wedding, as Levana isn’t going to let the chance of becoming Empress pass her by. Trying to quash the rebellion of her niece, Levana gets more and more frustrated with Winter’s continued popularity amongst the common people.
She gets one of her chief goons to propose marriage to the princess, who is shocked and creeped out and refuses, thus sealing her death sentence. Levana demands that Jacin prove his loyalty once and for all by murdering Winter, claiming that at least he will make sure it’s quick and painless. Jacin manipulates security footage so it looks like he stabs Winter, but instead frees Scarlet and makes her promise that she will take Winter to safety, joining Cinder and the gang, currently hiding out in a remote mining settlement.
I really liked the first three books in this series and had such high hopes for this book. Generally I found this book a disappointment.
On my blog you can find a list of things I disliked, and a shorter list of what really worked for me.