kareila: hidden between stacks of books (books)
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This novella doesn't attempt the impossible task of making Lunar Queen Levana sympathetic, but it does humanize her. Shown to be the unwanted younger child of the royal family, scarred and mocked by her cruel and faithless older sister, Levana is starved for affection and seizes on the simple kindness shown to her by a member of the royal guard, making him her unwilling husband.

Levana's husband has a daughter from a previous marriage, Winter, who is the Snow White princess: fairest in the land, even without the use of glamour to enhance her beauty. Although that makes Levana the wicked stepmother of her story, mirrors are not her ally; they show her the truth of her disfiguration, which she is able to hide from living eyes. When Levana's older sister, Queen Channary, dies of seemingly natural causes, Levana is left to rule as regent until Channary's daughter, Selene, is of age. But Levana discovers that she has an aptitude for leadership and politics that her older sister lacked, and uses it to justify murdering others to retain her power.

The Lunar Court, full of casual falsehoods, manipulation and glamour, reminds me of the fabled Faerie Court, and Levana's desperate seduction of her husband is like the tale of the hapless mortal who falls under the Faerie Queen's spell. There is the barest hint that if Levana had ever dropped her pretenses and ambitions, she might have found some measure of happiness and not become such a monster, but her history and position made her villainy inevitable.

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