kareila: hidden between stacks of books (books)
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When last we left our heroes, Cinder and her friends had just kidnapped Kai in order to prevent Levana from marrying him and taking control of the Commonwealth. (As a refresher: Kai is no idiot, but decides Levana's plague antidote is worth the sacrifice.) Some months have now passed, and Levana has returned to Luna to wage war on Earth.

Our latest primary viewpoint character is Levana's stepdaughter and captive, Winter, a Snow White princess with a tenuous grasp on her sanity due to the effects of refusing to manipulate others' perceptions with her glamour. We first met Winter near the end of Cress, trying to make friends with Scarlet, who is still being held prisoner in the royal palace. Although Winter has no claim to the throne, her natural beauty and kindness have made her as beloved by the common people as she is loathed by the royal court for her perceived feeblemindedness. She also seems to have a thing for sour apple candy.

Winter's only friend is Jacin, the Lunar double agent who was working for Sybil. He has returned to the palace with news, telling Levana about Cinder's glamour-nullifying device in order to win leniency for failing to capture her, but he also secretly tells Winter that Scarlet's friends are coming to rescue her and that Selene, the true heir, is alive.

Cinder's plan is to get Kai to convince Levana to move the wedding to Luna, giving the others an excuse to sneak onto the planet and somehow stage an uprising. Kai manages to execute the first stage of the plan, but when Levana discovers his betrayal and feels her totalitarian control over Luna slipping, she takes out her wrath on Winter, putting Jacin in the huntsman's role by ordering him to kill her and thus prove his loyalty.

My only real complaint about this series is that as the story progresses, more plot points feel forced into matching fairy tales, with insufficient regard for timing or motivation. That said, the characters and their relationships are what make the story work, and I appreciated the variety of dynamics on display. Cinder and Kai are honest and diplomatic; Scarlet and Wolf are codependent and instinctual; Cress and Thorne have to work through the baggage of their false first impressions; and Winter and Jacin are best friends with the hope of something more if they can win their freedom.

This book finishes the main story arc, but there is a fifth book of related short stories.
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