Books,  Reviews

Review: Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

51jdJA3em1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
Genre: YA
Publisher: Marvel Press
Date: Will release October 13, 2015

Natasha Romanoff is the living, breathing definition of lethal. Raised in a program designed to turn children into weapons, she has never known family or understood a normal child’s life. Ivan made her that way. Years later, as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., she uses her exceptional skills to make the world a better, safer place. Removing Ivan from the equation is a mission she has no intention of failing.  What she didn’t expect, was to find another young red-headed girl being trained by Ivan.  From that moment on, nothing goes the way Natasha had imagined.

For Ava, life since her rescue has made little sense. Living with S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while and then escaping to live on the street, she is mainly focused on one thing; survival. But she’s plagued by dreams and they feel more like memories than fantasy. Every dream is filled with the same boy. Alex or Alexei as Ava likes to think of him, is about her age and she’s grown up with these dreams of him. She’s seen him walking his dog or playing with his friends. The dreams seem to be more than just random happenstance. And then everything in Ava’s oddly shaped world shifts when, at a fencing event for high school students, she sees Alex. In real life. And she knows deep in her gut that something is off about the whole situation. Enter the famed Black Widow.

Packed with so much adventure, you can’t help holding your breath while you read, Margaret Stohl’s journey into the Marvel universe is spot on perfect. With this book, Stohl manages to capture the inner workings of Natasha Romanoff’s mind and bring a new level of backstory to this mysterious character. This addition to the canon of Natasha’s story seamlessly slides into place like a puzzle piece we didn’t even know was missing.

This is far more than just Natasha Romanoff’s backstory though. We have the introduction of two new characters, Alex and Ava. With these young people, the story becomes much bigger and, in my opinion, much, much better. We get to experience some of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from a different perspective. What are the Avengers like when they aren’t saving the world? Is Phil Coulson really that guy everyone loves? Or loves to hate? What’s he like in person? With the introduction of Alex and Ava, we get a fun, interesting perspective that brings a new level of engagement to the story.

From beginning to end, the plot moved quickly and played out like a movie. The storyline was deep enough to keep me engaged but simple enough to easily follow along. The characters were on point and it was easy to imagine that we had pulled back the curtain and seen a new part of the story.

By the time it was over, I was wondering if we might not see some of the new characters make an appearance somewhere on film. It would be easy to have a quick cameo on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it certainly wouldn’t be out of place. It’s difficult to introduce new characters into a well-established universe, but Stohl managed to make it happen with a deft hand and a brilliantly creative touch. Much like the television series Agent Carter, this felt like a part of the story that had actually happened and we were just getting a small glimpse behind the curtain. It’s easy to see how it adds to Natasha’s character and it’s not difficult to imagine these characters in the universe.

I was worried before I read the book that it might be overly violent or too adult for my teenage daughters. I have a 16 year old and a 13 year old, both of whom are big Black Widow fans. Black Widow’s story is anything but clean or easy to share and the thought of putting that into print for a young adult audience had me worried. I was happy to discover that Stohl handled the difficult aspects without an abundance of over the top violence or description. She alludes to more adult aspects of the story without dwelling on them and thankfully, creates an adventure that doesn’t stray far from the feel of the Avengers movies. This was a well done adaptation for the young adult audience.

The only thing that had me puzzled as I read was where this fit in the timeline. There were enough hints dropped to know that we weren’t nearly as far as Avengers: Age of Ultron or even Captain America: Winter Soldier. But was it before the first film? Somewhere in the middle? I would have liked to know more specifically where these incidents fell in the timeline. However, I can see a benefit to not nailing that down as well. It gives more room to play a little in the future.

And speaking of the future, I hope that we see more of these sorts of books. Black Widow: Forever Red was so well done that it made both of my teenage daughters and myself eager to continue the story. As for me, when I finished, I was looking for some indication about whether we’d see more from Stohl in this universe. I truly hope so. This book was fun, interesting, and hopefully, it was the start of something bigger.

For fans of the Avengers, the Marvel comics, or even television’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Stohl’s book is definitely a must read.

Review copy provided by the publisher.