Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase is the fairest of them all.
This is a story about Levana before the events of the rest of the series, but many of the things we find out in the first 3 books are mentioned, so it is important to read this book after Cress.
Fairest starts when Levana is 15 and her parents have just been assassinated by a shell. Her older sister, Channary, is soon crowned queen.
Levana is physically scarred and always glamours herself to look like someone else. She’s in love with a Lunar guard named Evret Hayle, whose wife, Solstice, is pregnant. Solstice and Evret pity Levana, and they give her a gift for her 16th birthday, but Levana misunderstands and believes that it is a token of Evret’s love for her.
Lunar scientists are creating a biological weapon (Letumosis) that they will send down to Earth. Lunars are immune to it, and the scientists are also going to create a cure so that Earthens will become dependent on Lunars, and they start testing it on shells.
Solstice dies during childbirth, and Levana uses her Lunar powers to make Evret marry her. Levana tries to get pregnant, but never does, but Channary has a baby (Selene, aka Cinder). A Lunar doctor (Dr. Darnel, aka Dr. Erland) and his wife also have a baby, but she is a shell (Cress).
Channary wants to marry the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth on Earth, but she dies of regolith poisoning about a year after having Selene. Levana is named queen regent.
Levana organizes Selene’s death, but the Lunars start to suspect her, and also spread rumors that Selene is still alive.
The bioengineered soldiers (Lunar Ops) are first made under Levana’s reign, but Luna is running out of resources.
Evret’s daughter, Winter, grows up to be very beautiful, but Evret and Levana’s marriage is still very shaky. Levana has disguised herself as Solstice the whole time and she finally takes off her glamour and lets him see her true self.
In a flashback scene, we see that Channary was the reason for Levana’s burn scars.
Back in the present, Levana decides that to save Luna, she’ll have to marry the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth. But she’s already married. So she hires her sister’s old head thaumaturge to kill Evret, and as he dies, she vows to take care of Winter.
what went down
- At age 15, Levana wakes up from a dream in which she is being burned alive. She sees her sister in the dream. It’s a recurring dream for her. It’s the day of her parents’ funeral, and Levana only really cares about what glamour she’s going to use (who/what she’s going to make herself look like using Lunar magic). Her parents were assassinated by a shell.
- Levana’s sister, Channary (Cinder, aka Princess Selene, is Channary’s daughter), comes into Levana’s room. Channary is a “beautiful fool” according to Levana, and Levana thinks that Channary uses glamour to be so beautiful. Channary and Levana don’t get along at all, but it’s obvious they both aren’t very sad about their parents dying. Channary is no angel, either, and she slaps Levana so that Levana will lose control of her glamour, so Channary can see Levana’s true self. Channary doesn’t want to speak at the funeral, so she says Levana will have to.
- At the funeral, Levana sees Sir Evret Hayle, a Lunar guard on whom she’s had a crush for years. Evret introduces Levana to his wife, Solstice, who is pregnant. Levana knew he was married but didn’t know they were expecting. Levana thinks Solstice looks a little weak and fragile.
- A few days after the funeral, Levana glamours herself and goes to Solstice’s seamstress shop. She buys a pair of gloves with a matching necklace, and Solstice offers to personalize them for her. Levana agrees and says to have them sent to the palace for Princess Levana. Solstice is surprised that she has been talking to Levana. Levana considers being rude to her, but decides to be nice so that Solstice will tell her husband, and he will think highly of her. While at the shop, she admires a quilt of the Earth that Solstice made.
- The next day is Channary’s coronation day. Their ancestor was the first Lunar with powers, and Levana respects that Channary is the rightful heir, but she doesn’t think Channary will be a good queen. Levana spends some time alone before the ceremony, wearing the gloves and necklace made and personalized by Solstice. She first glamours herself to look like her sister, and then changes to Solstice. Channary comes along and Levana tries to fool her with her glamour, but Channary tricks her into blowing her cover. Levana is angry and she runs away, and Evret sees her in her Solstice glamour. He wonders why his wife is there, and Channary tells him that it’s Levana, and that Levana has a crush on him. Levana runs away and tears off her gown and the gloves and necklace.
- Levana ends up going to the coronation in white, instead of the blue gown, and she has glamoured herself to look very pale. She is full of hatred toward her sister, and is furious that Channary will get everything that she wants, even though she doesn’t deserve it.
- Levana’s 16th birthday is a week after the coronation. She glamours herself as the pale girl again. There is an illusionist there, but he is performing for the queen, instead of Levana. Levana gets lost in her thoughts of Evret, and when the illusionist enlarges some flames, she is caught off guard and screams and falls over in her chair. She’s the only one who was scared, so everyone laughs at her, especially Channary. Levana leaves the party early and a guard gives her a birthday gift, saying it’s from Evret. It’s a card and an Earth pendant.
- Some time later, Queen Channary is having a meeting with her advisers, and her head thaumaturge, Joshua Haddon, tells her about Dr. Darnel (aka Dr. Erland) and his team’s progress with his research on making bioengineered soldiers. They want to start testing on Lunars. Levana’s father was the one who had the research started. Channary isn’t interested in anything the thaumaturge is saying, but Levana is very interested. Then the thaumaturge brings up the biochemical weapon that their parents had been developing (aka Letumosis). Channary tells them to continue their research, but then the thaumaturge brings up the idea of making an antidote so the Earthens would be reliant on Lunars after the plague hits. Channary thinks it’s a stupid idea, but Levana doesn’t, and says so. No one seems happy of Levana’s approval of the antidote plan, but Channary allows the antidote to be made. The thaumaturge then explains that they need Shell blood for the antidote. Channary decides to make a new law where Shells are rounded up so that the researchers can make the antidote. The thaumaturge nominates another thaumaturge, Sybil Mira (aka Levana’s future head thaumaturge), to be the one to oversee this new law, and Channary allows it.
- After everyone has left court, Channary tells Levana to come with her to a gown fitting. Levana doesn’t want to go but Channary makes her. On their way to Channary’s quarters, a girl comes to tell Evret that Solstice is in labor, and that it’s not looking good. Channary won’t let Evret go until his shift is over. Levana says she is going into town and wants Evret to escort her. Channary allows it, but Levana knows she’ll pay for this.
- In the waiting room of the clinic, Levana knows that Solstice is dying. She thinks it’s fate and that now she and Evret can be together. The baby is brought out, alive, but Solstice has died. Levana goes to see the baby in the nursery, and thinks she’s perfect. Evret comes in and Levana says all the wrong things, and is a bit too forward, but leaves when he asks her to.
- Levana imagines that Evret feels the same way about her that she does about him, even though he’s only treated her as a friend. The entire time he is on a leave of absence, she pines for him and thinks that he is pining for her, too, when he’s most likely grieving for his wife. When he comes back he comes to her room, but not to profess his love for her like she thinks, but to give her the quilt of the Earth that Solstice had made. He thanks her for getting Channary to let him go to Solstice when she was dying. He says, “You’ll have my gratitude until the day I die.” Levana loves the quilt but decides that she will store it and give it to Evret’s daughter when she is older. Then she tells him that she likes him more than as just a friend, but he doesn’t feel the same way. She uses her Lunar magic to make him freeze in place and she tries to make him admit that he loves her. She glamours herself to be Solstice and he begs her to stop. Evret says he will resign but she says she won’t let him. She uses more of her Lunar magic to brainwash him into believing that he loves her.
- A month goes by, and during that time, Levana has been glamouring herself to look like Solstice. Channary makes fun of her for this, and also for manipulating Evret into loving her. Evret tells her to stop torturing him, that he knows he doesn’t love her but his body makes him kiss her, etc. She tells him to marry her and he says no, but she’s not taking no for an answer. Levana manipulates him into kissing her, and even taking her virginity. He tells her that he tried to take his daughter and leave the area, but Channary wouldn’t allow him. He tells Levana that she is manipulating him, and she tells him that he has to marry her that night. He tells her that she will find love one day, and she manipulates him again, and he agrees to marry her.
- They get married that night. When she goes to put the wedding ring on his finger, he still has his old ring on. He says he won’t take it off, but will wear both. The witnesses at the wedding are Evret’s guard friend, Garrison Clay, his wife, and their toddler son (Jacin Clay, whom we meet in Cress).
- Channary is angry because Levana married a guard instead of whomever Channary would choose for her for political reasons. She also can’t believe that Levana is going to raise Evret’s baby as her own. Levana says that she could be getting pregnant soon, but Channary is actually pregnant, and doesn’t know who the father is.
- Channary gets larger and Levana tries to get pregnant but to no avail. She hears that Dr. Darnel (aka Dr. Erland) and his wife are expecting a baby (Cress). Then Channary has baby Selene (aka Cinder).
- 7 months later, Channary tells Levana about how Dr. Darnel’s wife had their baby, and she was a shell. Channary also tells Levana that she has been setting her sights on marrying the Emperor of the Eastern Commonwealth on Earth (aka Kai’s father). Levana reminds her that the emperor is already married, and Channary alludes to possible assassination. Channary can tell that Levana’s marriage is not working out.
- 5 months later, Channary dies of regolith poisoning, a type of substance that is found in the Lunar mines. Levana is named queen regent until Selene is 13.
- About a year later, Levana is doing well at ruling, and she’s happy. She has made Sybil Mira her head thaumaturge. Evret suggests that Levana show her true self to her people, so that they will trust her. But she reminds him that he hasn’t even seen her true self.
- Levana starts having fantasies of Selene dying, because she thinks that she herself should be queen forever. Then she starts actually planning it, and decides “She would do to the child what Channary had done to her.” There’s a new nanny and Levana uses her glamour to make the nanny take a candle and put it near a blanket in the nursery playhouse where Selene is, and then take a nap with Selene, so that they will then be killed by a fire caused by the candle.
- Levana seems to be affected at least a little by Selene’s “death” but ends up really only thinking about how now she is the queen. Soon after, though, the people seem to suspect Levana, and there are rumors that Selene is still alive. Levana questions Dr. Eliot, who was the first one to examine the bodies in the fire. Dr. Eliot swears that there is no truth to the rumors, that Selene is dead. Levana and Sybil Mira don’t believe that the doctor is telling the truth. Levana tells Sybil Mira to question Dr. Eliot, and she plans on questioning another doctor, Logan Tanner, (the second doctor on the scene after the fire) but he disappears before she can question him. (Logan Tanner is Scarlet’s grandfather, FYI. He brought Selene to Earth.)
- During the next year, the bioengineered soldiers (Lunar Ops) are first made, and Lunars with the plague are first sent to Earth. Soon after, Dr. Darnel (aka Dr. Erland) disappears, too.
- Years later, Evret’s daughter, Winter, is becoming more and more beautiful, and people are saying she may turn out to be more beautiful than Levana. Luna is getting low on resources, and Levana knows she must conquer Earth to solve that problem.
- Levana overhears Winter and Evret talking about Solstice. Evret tells Winter that Solstice was more beautiful than anyone except Winter. Evret kind of catches Levana listening, so she asks him why he agreed to marry her. He says that she didn’t give him a choice, and she tries to convince him that she would have accepted a no from him, but he makes her realize that she wouldn’t have taken no for an answer. He asks her if she’s still waiting for him to fall in love with her. She says she knows he cares about her because of the pendant he gave her for her 16th birthday. He tells her that it was Solstice’s idea to give her that, but that he does want to be her friend, that he does care for her. Levana realizes he pities her, as did Solstice. Levana asks him to try to make their marriage work, asks him to try to start over. He says he can’t pretend to start over since she still looks like Solstice. She takes off her glamour and shows him her true form, scars and all. He is shocked, but tells her that no matter how she looks, she has “controlled and manipulated” him. She tells him her love for him has always been real.
- There’s a flashback scene where we find out how Levana got her scars: Channary started a fire in the nursery (fires are illegal on Luna) and tossed some sand or sugar in, to make sparks. She asked if Levana wanted to try. Levana did, and Channary started throwing lots of toys and things in the fire. Then she cut a piece of Levana’s hair and threw it in. Levana tried to get away but Channary held her down and tried to cut some of her skirt. They tumbled a bit, and Channary ended up in the fire, but got out quickly. Levana apologized and offered to call a doctor for the red mark on Channary’s neck. But Channary instead said what she would tell anyone else later: that she got the mark trying to save Levana from the fire. Levana tries to get away, but Channary uses her Lunar power to control her.
how did it end?
Back in the present, Levana is still upset about her argument with Evret. She still isn’t using glamour to disguise herself, and she goes down the hall, covered with a makeshift veil, and enters her sister’s bedroom, which is just as it was when she was alive. She finds Channary’s mirror, and looks in. The last time she looked in a mirror was soon after Channary had burned her. In a rage, she starts throwing things at the mirror, breaking it into tiny pieces. Guards come in to check on her and she demands that all the mirrors in the entire city to be destroyed, and she wants all the glass in the palace to be non-reflective glass.
Levana gets a netscreen to go into the frame of the old mirror, so that she can spy on Earth and her own people. She sees a press conference from the Eastern Commonwealth, saying that the emperor’s wife has died of Letumosis. The man who put the netscreen in the mirror’s frame for her tells her that her glamour will not work through video on the netscreens, and she tells him she has ordered something to get around that: a special veil made by her dressmaker.
Levana quickly becomes a ruthless queen instead of the efficient one she was before. And she knows that soon, Luna will run out of resources. She decides that to take over Earth, she’ll make a marriage alliance. And since Winter isn’t truly her heir, she’ll have to be the one to marry the emperor.
She goes to Evret’s chamber for one last time. Then the previous head thaumaturge, Joshua Haddon, comes in and shoots Evret. Levana had hired him to do it, and in return she promised she would marry him and he would become king. But Levana kills Haddon instead. She seems very upset that she has caused Evret’s death, and as he is dying, he makes Levana promise to take care of Winter. She promises, and then puts the pendant he and Solstice had given her in his hand.
Shell = a Lunar who is born without powers
Thaumaturge = an adviser to the queen