When we think of the evil queen from Snow White, we think of an aging woman obsessed with her own beauty and power. But in The Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana of Luna is much more than obsessed with her own beauty and maintaining her power. Her cruelty to her people and anyone that would defy her means her people view her as a monster.
Levana has an army of genetically altered soldiers who have been given the traits of wolves. They are blood thirsty, and uncontrollable thanks to genetic tampering. They have been forcibly conscripted and turned into wolf-like soldiers with the express purpose of attacking Earth.
Levana’s scientists also created letumosis, the virus ravaging its way across Earth killing millions. She unleashed the virus on Earth by allowing Lunar citizens who were unknowingly carrying the disease to escape to Earth. She also has a manufactured cure made from the blood of Shells–Lunars that don’t possess the Lunar Gift, who are taken at birth from their families. Their families are told they are killed to protect their society from the “dangerous”’ Shells, but instead they are kept in stasis as living blood banks.
But this is the least of her cruelties. Citizens who commit minor crimes are routinely sentenced to death by their own hand. Their families can be sentenced to self-inflicted public lashes, while children are given as a “gifts” to be slaves to in noble families where they will be routinely tortured. Of course, these lashes and death sentences aren’t really self-inflicted as one of the Queen’s Thaumaturges will use their gift to force you. One prisoner is even forced to cut off her own finger in attempt to gain information.
Worst of all, Levana had her niece burned alive after convincing herself that the three-year-old would grow up to be as vain and insipid as her mother. She believed it a mercy, as she would kill the girl instead of making her live as a disfigured “monster”. She then assumes the girl’s crown. Years later, she forces her step-daughter, who is renowned for her beauty and kindness, to mutilate her own face.
But what if Levana also viewed herself as a monster? Not because of her actions, but because of how she looks. At around age 6 or 7, her teenage sister Channery used her gift on Levana to get her to play with fire and then walk into the fireplace. She watched as her little sister burned, calling for help barely in time to save her life. As a result, Levana is horribly scarred and disfigured. She refuses to look at herself in the mirror, convinced she looks like a monster. She constantly uses her glamour to appear beautiful to everyone, and covers herself with a veil when communicating with Earth or during propaganda broadcasts. She is so afraid of what she really looks like and what would happen if anyone found out, that she has all the mirrors on Luna destroyed and the glass in the palace replaced with non-reflective panels so that neither she nor anyone else will ever catch a glimpse of what she truly looks like. She can’t even stand to look at a recorded image of what she truly looks like.
As for her first husband, she glamoured herself to look like his late wife and continued to look that way for years, believing he could one day love her as much as he once loved his first wife. Despite his repeated requests, she refused to show him what she really looks like, believing he could never love the real her. That he would see what she saw, a monster. When she finally realizes that no matter what she looks like, or what she does to convince him he loves her, he never will, she has him killed.
This is her turning point I think. When she truly become the monster she already believes herself to be. If she could murder the man she claims to love because he doesn’t love her, then she is capable of murdering as many people as she has to to achieve her goal. Her cruelty and ruthlessness increase after her husband’s death, as she becomes a tyrant hell-bent on conquering Earth at any cost. She convinces herself that her people love her and that everything she does is for them, not her own selfish reasons. Indeed, she seems to embrace being a monster, but no matter what cruelties she commits she still doesn’t see what really makes her a monster is not her disfigured appearance, but her actions.
What drives Levana into this twisted thinking is her damaged state of mind. Growing up, Levana was ignored by her parents, bullied by her sister who routinely called her ugly, and never shown an ounce of compassion or love from anyone around her. Even at Levana’s own birthday party, Channery mocks her fear of fire in front of the whole court and makes the celebration about herself instead. Being treated horribly by your own family can have a profound and lasting effect on anyone’s psyche.
The early effects of this can be seen when a fifteen-year-old Levana latches on to the first person who shows her any kindness, a young Royal Guard. Levana develops a crush on him and soon believes herself in love with him. When Channery refuses to allow him to go to his dying wife, Levana returns that initial kindness by taking him herself.
However, once his wife is dead, Levana decides to glamour herself to look like the deceased woman whom she believes to be the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. She uses this to manipulate him into marrying her. She is so desperate to be shown any form of love that she uses her gift to force it out of someone, not seeing that it will never be real.