I always found the Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen oddly disturbing, that business with mirror splinters in the eye creeped me out as a kid. This Hugo award winning book by Joan D. Vinge (Mrs. Vernor Vinge no less), takes the original tale and turns it up to 11. I find that female science fiction authors are frequently better at character development and are better prose stylists than their male counterparts, cases in point (off the top of my head) would be Ursula K. Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, Anne Macaffrey and Mrs. Vinge here very much deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with them (but isn't). Certainly with this book she has created some emotionally complex and believable characters who she puts through the wringer and they come out better people for it (unlike in real life when I tend to shake my fist at the sky post-wringer sessions).
The hardest villains to write are the ones who are morally complex and commit heinous acts on the basis of some warped principles, like altruism gone wrong. The super wicked titular Machiavellian character never hesitate to corrupt, murder and destroy for in the name of planetary progress. She thinks nothing of killing half the populace yet she misses her younger days when she was just a happy care-free girl and instinctively fall for a boy who reminds her of her younger self. She now ranks among my all time favorite villains. Romance is a major aspect of the story but not the adolescent starry-eyed type that will leave twitards weak at the knees. Here it is portrayed as a vastly complicated human condition that create, destroy, corrupt and redeem with equal facility.
My only complaint is that the male characters are not as well developed as the ladies, especially the two "starbucks" characters who are despicable and deserve their eventual decaffeination (sorry). The one exception is a sympathetic policeman who goes on to have his own spin-off adventures in later books.
It is a terrible shame that The Snow Queen is out of print (as I write) while Stephenie Meyer's literary manures are in plentiful supply. The most recent book by Joan D. Vinge appears to be a Cowboys and Aliens novelization. What is the world coming to??