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Wiping Out The Red In Her Ledger, One Step At A Time

Marvel meets YA in Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red.

Wiping Out The Red In Her Ledger, One Step At A Time

BOOK REPORT for Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Cover Story: Comic-y
BFF Charm: Maybe and Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: 5
Talky Talk: Disparate Parts
Bonus Factors: The Avengers
Anti-Bonus Factor: Plot Holes
Relationship Status: Missed Connection

Cover Story: Comic-y

This cover makes a solid attempt at mixing the “traditional” looks of comics and YA, but the combination falls a bit flat. The title treatment is seriously fantastic, but the painted woman we can assume to be Black Widow looks unfinished, and the position her left hand is in just looks strange (and very uncomfortable).

The Deal:

Everyone knows of Natasha Romanov (or Romanoff, or Romanova, or …) a.k.a. Black Widow, legendary S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Avenger. But very few people actually know her, nor know of her childhood, which was spent as part of Russia’s super secret (and super terrible) Red Room program, which gave her the skills she needed to become Black Widow—but also turned her into a lethal assassin.

But Natasha wasn’t the only child to grow up as part of the Red Room program. Ava Orlova was 8 when Natasha rescued her from the clutches of the Red Room, and its leader, Ivan Somodorov. Eight years later, Ivan—who was assumed dead—has reappeared, and is looking to reconnect with his ptenets*.

*This word is used often in the book. I think it’s a term of endearment, something like “little chicks” or “younglings”? Google kind of failed me on the translation.

BFF Charm: Maybe and Big Sister

As much as I like her character, and think she’s a total badass, it would be hard to become friends with Natasha. She’s not one for relationships—as we’re reminded repeatedly throughout Black Widow: Forever Red—and she likes it that way. As cool as it would be to be able to say “I’m friends with Black Widow,” I’m just not sure that it’s a possibility.

Ava’s a lot like Natasha, for more reasons than one, but she’s more inclined to let people into her life. She’s had a tough go of things, and as much as she thinks she’s an independent, self-aware teenager, she is still a teenager, and could use a guiding influence. Or at least a good hug.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

For a book about two women who aren’t big fans of showing or sharing emotions, Black Widow: Forever Red is filled with them. I won’t go into detail, but a third character—one with unexpected connections to both Natasha and Ava—comes into play early on in the book, and he quickly makes himself a part of both of their lives, like it or not. Sadly, even though there are extenuating circumstances, the relationships often feel a bit forced, and definitely instalove adjacent.

Talky Talk: Disparate Parts

I had hoped that this book would give more insight into the character of Black Widow, or tell us more about when she was an actual Young Adult, but we get almost none of that. Instead, Black Widow: Forever Red feels like a YA book that was written separate from the Marvel universe, and then bits and pieces to tie them together were added in. It’s not that the plot wasn’t interesting—it was. Margaret Stohl did a good job at creating a suspenseful storyline and did quite well at making Natasha recognizable as the one in from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies. But even though Natasha was a main character, she felt apart from the story. I just can’t shake the feeling that this could have been a great story had the various parts worked together better.

Bonus Factor: The Avengers

I’m a huge fan of all things Avengers-related (specifically MCU Avengers), so I got a huge thrill when other members of the team show up or are mentioned in the book. Stohl does a great job of translating their personalities and characteristics to the page.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Plot Holes

The copy of the book I read was an ARC, so I’m not sure if the various plot holes I ran across were filled by the release date. But there were quite a few points that were mentioned at one point that I thought would be brought up later, but never were. Specifically, for those of you who’ve read it, the tattoo. Where did that come from? Why was he not more worried about it? I hope it was done well, at least.

Casting Call:

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Romanov/Romanova Black Widow

Natch.

Ellie Darcey-Alden as Ava

Relationship Status: Missed Connection

I really wanted to love you, Book. From the moment I heard about you, I was excited. But not everyone can live up to high hopes, and, in this case, perhaps my hopes were much too high.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Marvel Press (via Book Expo of America), but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Black Widow: Forever Red is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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