Author Estelle Laure takes the twist on Disney villains to new heights in City of Villains. Disney fans will see Captain Hook, Ursula, Maleficent, and more like they’ve never seen them before, as teens and through the eyes of protagonist Mary Elizabeth Heart. The synopsis reads:
Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior by day, but by night she’s an intern at the Monarch City police department. She watches with envy from behind a desk as detectives come and go, trying to contain the city’s growing crime rate. For years, tension has simmered between the city’s wealthy elite, and their plans to gentrify the decaying neighborhood called the Scar — once upon a time the epicenter of all things magic. When the daughter of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen goes missing, Mary Elizabeth is thrilled when the Chief actually puts her on the case. But what begins as one missing person’s report soon multiplies, leading her down the rabbit hole of a city in turmoil. There she finds a girl with horns, a boyfriend with secrets, and what seems to be a sea monster lurking in a poison lake. As the mystery circles closer to home, Mary finds herself caught in the fight between those who once had magic, and those who will do anything to bring it back.
Unlike any other Disney villain book on the market, Laure transplants our favorite villains to a Gotham like setting where magic was once alive and woven into the very fabric of the Scar. Laure creates a world where magic feels tangible but is just beyond the reach of young Mary Elizabeth, James, and Ursula who seem to be growing apart as they begin to set out on their own paths through life. Mary Elizabeth is interested in climbing the ranks of the police department and the incorporation of this job path and her subsequent investigations is like a breath of fresh air that will intrigue readers right to the very end. The multilayered narrative weaves a complex, compelling main character and story while also speaking to the politics of today in the challenges faced by the citizens of the Scar. Through Mary, the story also explores the nature of trauma and the toll it can take on mental health, something Mary struggles with throughout the book. Any budding fans of true crime or mysteries will certainly love this Disney driven storyline.
Interestingly, the secondary characters in City of Villains are just as compelling as Mary Elizabeth. While she is the main focus of the narrative, it was easy to wonder about James, Ursula, or Mary Elizabeth’s detective partner, Bella, who is nearly the opposite of her in every way. Where Mary is hard edges and standoffish, Bella is driven and determined to solve their case and they make an excellent duo that we hope to see again in book two. This book isn’t afraid to stretch the boundaries of what we know about villains like Captain Hook and Ursula and does so in a way that asks what it means to be a villain.
Laure also brilliantly draws in other Disney aspects to her story such as the bar named Wonderland that Legacies frequent. The rich story is bursting with subtle (and not so subtle) references like this that make the book a treat. It’s a short book that’s an easy read, but Laure pulls you right into the heart of the Scar and leaves you wanting more when the fast-paced tale ends. City of Villains is the first in a trilogy which allowed for a slower, intricate beginning that lays a secure groundwork on which Laure builds her narrative for Mary Elizabeth and her world. As the book draws to a close, fans will find themselves asking more questions, and while it’s safe to say not every answer will be given (it is the first of three books after all), the ending is both satisfying and engaging.
Any fan who picks up City of Villains won’t be able to put it down and will certainly find themselves wondering about the Scar, Mary Elizabeth, James, Ursula, and Mally as they wait for book two. City of Villains will be available in stores and online January 26.