It seems unfair of me to review a book based on expectations, but I was at the Women of Marvel panel at last year’s New York Comic Con when they announced that there would be a Black Widow YA novel, and I feel that it was misrepresented. When I first heard about it, I assumed that it would be about, you know, Black Widow. In my head, I was picturing a teenage Natasha Romanov making her way in the world, post-Red Room but pre-S.H.I.E.L.D. I was anxiously awaiting a Black Widow origin story. Unfortunately, that is not the case with Black Widow: Forever Red.
Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl suffers from a lack of its titular character. How in the world, in a book where she graces the cover, is Natasha not the main character? Instead, the story focuses mainly on two teenagers – Ava and Alex – who are connected somehow but do not know why. The book splits the perspective, with all three having chapters told from their points of view, as they try to figure out what generic Russian bad-guy (also known as Ivan Somodorov) is up to. All of the characters are massively underdeveloped – even Natasha comes across as very one-dimensional. I felt little to no connection with Ava or Alex, and so the focus on them was disappointing. Alex’s character in particular had a lot of issues, and while Ava was rather whiny, she is a teenager so I thought that was reasonably true-to-life. There is a cameo appearance by Tony Stark, but his personality seemed forced. The other Avengers are mentioned in passing, as though Stohl felt the need to remind you all that they were there.
To be perfectly honest, the writing is not all that great. It reads very much like a junior novelization of a movie, but if it were, it would be a pretty boring movie, because the plot isn’t all that spectacular either. I suppose it was just too much focus on the teenagers (and their deep, profound connection that transforms into love so quickly it’s got to be some kind of record), not enough focus on Natasha. You will have to suspend your disbelief, but this is a Marvel title. Aliens are a thing that exists in this universe, so really, people sharing mental connections isn’t the weirdest thing you will encounter. Still, the main plot took ages to develop. It didn’t really start to pick up or get interesting until later in the book, and at that point I just didn’t care anymore.
Anyway, Black Widow: Forever Red isn’t really meant to be about Black Widow at all. Instead, it’s an origin story for Red Widow, Marvel’s newest teenage superhero. Red Widow made her first appearance in the Mockingbird one-shot from the S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th anniversary collection, which debuted on September 2nd. And, hey, if you want to have a book about Red Widow, then please do. Give me all the ladies, yes. But don’t call a book Black Widow and have it not be about her, because that is really frustrating.
As I said earlier, it’s probably unfair of me to review this book based on my expectations, which were ridiculously high, but I was just so disappointed in Black Widow: Forever Red. There will be a second one, but after having read this one, I fear the sequel will be much the same – a book that focuses more on the teenagers than on Black Widow herself. Still, I feel like we as a fandom need to embrace whatever we can get, because hopefully it will convince Marvel to give us more.
Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl is published by Marvel Press and is available wherever books are sold.
Author: Jamie Sugah
Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.
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