Mary Elizabeth Heart remembers when magic left Monarch City with the sudden and complete disappearance of the Scar’s newest skyscraper two years ago. It couldn’t compare to the murder of her parents and sister, but this loss is much bigger for Monarch City.
Now Mary is a high school intern with the police. Tensions are always high between the Scar’s Legacy residents with magic and the wealthy Narrows encroaching on the land for cheap real estate and not caring about the area’s magical legacy. But now a killer is taunting the police sending gift boxes of body parts.
When Mally Saint, the daughter of one of the city’s richest residents, goes missing Mary Elizabeth is as surprised as anyone to be put on the case with rookie officer Bella Loyola. As the unlikely duo delves deeper into the case, Mary Elizabeth will have to decide what to do when she discovers uncomfortable truths about the culprit, her home, and her friends in City of Villains (2021) by Estelle Laure.
City of Villains is the first book in a trilogy that re-imagines the origins of some of Disney’s most iconic villains in a fantasy noir setting. Think Veronica Mars meets CW’s Nancy Drew but make it Disney.
Laure brings a lot of dimension to familiar territory as she ages down familiar characters like The Queen of Hearts (Mary Elizabeth), Captain Hook (Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend), Ursula (Mary Elizabeth’s best friend) and more from all areas of the Disney morality spectrum. Disney fans will enjoy hunting down all of the Easter egg references to iconic characters. Those less familiar with the Disney-verse might wonder at the one-dimensionality of some characters who feel more like caricatures when distilled down to their key traits for brief appearances in the novel.
Monarch City as a setting owes a lot to Batman’s Gotham City with its sinister shadows and political unrest. Unfortunately, Gotham City does not translate well to prose. Part of why it works in Batman is because that series is presented as comics or films—mediums with very different world building requirements than novels.
While the premise of a teen investigating a high profile case pushes the limit for plausibility, Mary Elizabeth’s persistence and grit more than make up for this shortcoming. City of Villains is a lot of potential that isn’t always allowed to fully blossom because of the marks it has to hit as a Disney property. A must-read for Disney fans and worth a look for readers who enjoy fantasy noir.
Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter