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“When you’re always defending yourself from something you think is coming around the next corner, when you think the world is against you, there isn’t much of a chance for the good stuff to come through,” Tink. –City of Villains      

City of Villains #1

by Estelle Laure


At A Glance
Interest Level

14+
Entertainment
Score
Reading Level
6.7
Number of Pages
240

Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior by day, but by night she’s an intern at the Monarch City police department. She watches with envy from behind a desk as detectives come and go, trying to contain the city’s growing crime rate. For years, tension has simmered as the city’s wealthy elite plan to gentrify a decaying neighborhood called the Scar—which once upon a time was the epicenter of all things magical.

When the daughter of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen goes missing, Mary Elizabeth is thrilled when the Chief puts her on the case. But what begins as one missing person’s report soon multiplies, leading her down the rabbit hole of a city in turmoil. There she finds a girl with horns, a boyfriend with secrets, and what seems to be a sea monster lurking in a poisonous lake. As the mystery circles closer to home, Mary finds herself caught in a fight between those who once had magic, and those who will do anything to bring it back—even if it means creating a few monsters along the way.

This dark, fairytale-inspired world explores the reimagined origins of Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, and other infamous Disney villains. Readers who expect to walk into a world of Disney characters will be disappointed to discover that while the characters are named after Disney characters, they are normal humans. To make matters worse, at the beginning of the story, a slew of characters are introduced, but most of them have only a brief appearance which leads to confusion. In addition, the characters are so underdeveloped that readers will have a hard time connecting with them. While the story is told from Mary Elizabeth’s point of view, her insight into her friends’ true personalities also adds to the confusion.

The setting of the story is unclear because it references the United States in modern day, but it also is a world that magic used to exist in. Like the characters, the world building is underdeveloped. Unlike most Disney stories, City of Villains revolves around teenagers who hang out at bars. Plus, Mary Elizabeth is an intern at the police station which gives her access to some brutal murder cases, including her own family’s murder. For example, the police are attempting to solve a gruesome case that involves a murderer leaving gift-wrapped body parts all over the city.

City of Villains will leave many Disney fans disappointed. The plot takes the reader on a winding and confusing journey through a world with little magic. The gruesome murder scenes, the underdeveloped characters, and the unrealistic conclusion make City of Villains a book that is best left on the shelf. Readers who want a fairytale-inspired story should check out Fairy Tale Reform School by Jen Calonita or the Once Upon a Con Series by Ashley Poston.

Sexual Content

  • Mary Elizabeth and her boyfriend kiss, but the kiss is not described. For example, “James and I pause to kiss while Ursula stops to answer a call on her cell.”
  • When a girl is reported to be missing, the chief of police doesn’t want to investigate. “The last thing I need is drama over a girl who’s probably in a hotel room with someone she met in some club last Saturday night, picking up parasites from the questionable bed linens.”
  • Mary Elizabeth argues with a boy at school. He tells her, “I think what Mr. Iago is getting at is that your need to engage in confrontations with me boils down to attraction and sexual tension. . . if you didn’t have that ugly birthmark and weren’t totally concave in the chest area, I might consider relieving all that tension for you.”
  • While in a bar’s bathroom, Mary Elizabeth sees writing on the wall. It says, “For a good time call Mary Elizabeth.”

Violence

  • While working at the police station, Mary Elizabeth learns about a case. “Body parts showing up all over the Scar . . . So far there’s been a thigh, an arm, a hand with the fingerprints cut from the skin. . . they come in these boxes wrapped up like holiday gifts, frozen in dry ice.”
  • A new package arrives. “A hand rests in the center, mist rising all around it as the dry ice burns off. Its fingernails are blackened and congealed blood crusts at the wrist. It’s discolored gray, and the middle finger is pointed straight upward, flipping the chief the bird.”
  • At school there is a scuffle between two boys. “Stone slams into Lucas Attenborough, who pushes him back easily, so Stone falls onto his back, loses his breath, and looks up at us in panic. Lucas gives him a kick that’s more symbolic than painful.”
  • When Mally isn’t invited to a party, she shows up with her pet bird, Hellion. Mally’s bird “flew everywhere, digging his talons into the rose blossom cake, knocking over the vat of ginger beer, pecking into the chestnut-toasted suckling pig.” Later, Mally “cut Flora’s break lines, left a roadkill on Fauna’s doorstep, and bleached Merryweather’s grass.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s parents and sister are murdered and Mary Elizabeth sees some crime scene photos with “all that blood.” She also learns that the man who killed them “just wanted to know what it would feel like to take lives.”
  • In a vision, Mary Elizabeth sees Mally, who is trying to tell her something. “She is yanked out of the chair. She slaps against the plastic seat and whacks heavily against the floor, and then she slides along, head lolling to the side, eyes unblinking and open.”
  • Bella, a young police officer, accidentally shoots someone. “I was aiming for his leg, but I killed him.”
  • Bella tells Mary Elizabeth about a trucker who “kidnapped a couple people, and then left their remains outside of Las Vegas.”
  • The police arrest a man who “had a kill kit in his vehicle: ropes, hacksaw, trash bags. . . and we found trace elements of Ursula’s blood in his shop and on his clothes.”
  • The person who helped kidnapped Mally and Ursula tells Mary Elizabeth, “I thought they’d be drugged, poked with needles, dosed with forgetful serum, and then returned home. . . I had no idea it would turn out this way, that people would actually be monstrously altered.”
  • While trying to free Mally and Ursula, men try to stop Mary Elizabeth. “I kick the gun out of one man’s hand and then punch and duck and swerve but feel something hit my chin and something else grab me by the back of the head. . .” Ursula jumps into the fight. “She swings her arms out and the men go flying, making hard thudding noises as they hit the wall. She makes a rising motion and the men get up like marionettes, doing jigs. They are horrified and helpless as their bodies are flung to and from.”
  • While trying to escape, Mally “hurls blue lights at him. She hits him and he is singed and within seconds has disappeared.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend James’s hand is hit with darts. His hand begins to shrivel. In order to save his life, Mary Elizabeth grabs an ax. She swings “high and brings the ax down, severing James’s hand from his arm. . . He screams as I take off my belt and loop it around his arm tightly as I can.”
  • At the end of the battle, the police show up. “Pieces of broken glass and bodies are strewn everywhere. Medics have begun to collect Kyle’s men one by one and puts some into ambulances, while others are covered in blankets, a signal that they will need to be collected for the morgue.”

 Drugs and Alcohol

  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend is “the son of a drug-lord/murderer.”
  • Mary Elizabeth and her boyfriend see a man who is “wasted.”

Language

  • The teens often call each other names such as doofus, idiot, moron, jerk, prick, loser, and crazy witch.
  • Profanity is rarely used. Profanity includes asshole, damn, bitchy, hell, pissing, and jackass.

Supernatural

  • Magic used to exist, but now the only place that is magical is the Ever Garden. “Once someone tried to sell hot dogs from a cart and was hurled out by a redwood.”
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend shows her a blue ball of light. “So I keep looking at this light until I’m part of it, until I am the swirl and I can see it isn’t just a flat blue. . . It’s alive and beckoning, its fingers reaching for me. Half a second later, the light shoots into my chest.”
  • Due to a magical experiment, Mary Elizabeth’s best friend, Ursula, is changed. “She has tentacles, black ones that look to be part of a backless dress.” At one point, Ursula “changes from a human to an eel to a giant floating jellyfish and back to a human in a matter of seconds.”
  • While looking in a mirror, Mary Elizabeth sees a reflection of a different version of herself. She can step through the mirror into another place. She pushes the glass and “the glass gives, turning opaque like silver satin as my fingers disappear to the knuckle.”
  • At one point, Mary Elizabeth levitates.
  • Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend uses magic to put her to sleep. “He presses his lips against mine and pulls me in close. . . He pulls back, puts a thumb to my forehead. . . ‘Sleep,’ he says, and blue light shoots into my head. The world abruptly fades to black.
  • Mally turns into a “badass” dragon.

Spiritual Content

  • None

 

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“When you’re always defending yourself from something you think is coming around the next corner, when you think the world is against you, there isn’t much of a chance for the good stuff to come through,” Tink. –City of Villains      

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