Black Widow: Forever Red
by Margaret Stohl
Publisher: Marvel Press
Publication Date: October 13th, 2015
Format Read: Hardcover
Enter the world of the Avengers’ iconic master spy
Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.
Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments-until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.
When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned-and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams. . . .
Black Widow:Forever Red features all the heart-pounding adventure readers expect from Marvel, written by #1 New York Times best-selling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe that will thrill loyal fans and newcomers alike, as Stohl reveals the untold story of Black Widow for the very first time.
So, all I wanted to do was love this book. I’d heard Margaret Stohl speak at YALLfest, and thought she was a fantastic choice to write this. I wanted to gobble up a book about my favorite Avenger with lots of ass-kicking, Russianness and SHIELD stuff. And I got all of that, but with the realization that some things are better in movie form, and some things are better in book form. I wanted to love this book, but am left with the realization that maybe the Avengers should stay in the movies for me.
I really, really wanted to at least give this book four stars. I’m still far too nostalgic over BLACK WIDOW and her little SESTRA WIDOW and ALEXEI and SHIELD. And hey, although I didn’t get it signed at this year’s YALLFest, I will probably get it signed and place it in a place of honor on my bookshelf. I just might not read it again. Because it really was a three-star read.
Not that any book with the Black Widow on the cover is going to be bad. But, strike one, it’s not actually about the Black Widow. It’s about Ava Orlova, a little girl that Natasha Romanoff rescues from her own Red Room tormenter. They have a lot of similarities, and little Ava is clearly looking for some sort of personal connection, but we all know the Black Widow can’t quite handle actual intimacy. Of course, to her surprise, she and Ava are a lot more connected than either of them may have thought. There were a lot of interesting relationships in the book, exploring a lot of different angles, but in light of the plot the characterization felt rushed and a little fake. Also, I can’t read the word ‘Sestra’ without thinking about Helena from Orphan Black.
The book felt very…cinematic. There was a lot of action going on, a lot of movement. If I were watching the plot on a movie screen there would be jerky, quick scenes of fighting and dreams and New Jersey and the Triskelion. But quick, jerky scenes didn’t exactly pan out in book form. I was confused from the very beginning, and got progressively more confused until about ⅔ of the way through the book, when the story finally granted me something of an explanation as to what was going on. The chapters were separated by excerpts of a transcript of the Black Widow being interrogated about the events in the book, after the fact, which I think was supposed to provide some context but really made things more confusing.
Having watched almost every element of the recent MCU, I can attest that it fit in well–but that might also be a mark against the book for people who aren’t die-hard Marvel fans. I was able to roll with the punches when names like Coulson, Stark, Triskelion, Red Room and SHIELD Training Center came up. BUT, I’m not sure how many people would have been able to manage if they hadn’t seen the Avengers and stuff. This might be a moot point, since the book definitely seems to have a target audience, but maybe still worth pointing out. If you haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron, don’t read this book, you’ll just be even more confused than you would be already.
The climax was especially cinematic and Marvel-y, which I’m again not sure is a good thing. There was a frantic flight scene, some tense dramatic action, and a WHOLE LOT OF FIGHTING in a creepy underground base. There was a fantastic tear-jerker of a climax scene, which lost most of its emotional impact for me because I was too busy trying to figure out what was going on with the snipers and Ivan and electrocuting the water. The grand solution to Ivan’s evil plan was not explained beyond ‘DNA code hidden in ballet dance’, merely avoided by going typically full-on Marvel fight scene. And I’m still confused how they had the computer to save the world–hint: if you pull the motherboard of a computer out to electrocute an army, the rest of the computer probably isn’t going to work…
I think the concept to the book is great. As Marvel expands into TV, it makes sense to go into other forms of pop culture (aka books) and also to explore backgrounds/side stories of characters that can’t be shown on the big screen. I loved the opportunity to get to see more of the Black Widow, even if she wasn’t exactly the main character, just the title character. And I liked Stohl’s writing–lines about triggers breaking like glass and pierogi moons made me shiver in a writer-nerd kind of way. But the way a comic works, and the way TV shows and movies work, is very different than how books work. Every single problem came about because I was reading the action instead of seeing it.
Bottom Line (Marvel, take note): the Black Widow needs her own movie. And maybe Ava needs a TV show.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.