Blurb from Goodreads
Leave it to the heroes to save the world–villains just want to rule the world.
In this unique YA anthology, thirteen acclaimed, bestselling authors team up with thirteen influential BookTubers to reimagine fairy tales from the oft-misunderstood villains’ points of view.
These fractured, unconventional spins on classics like “Medusa,” Sherlock Holmes, and “Jack and the Beanstalk” provide a behind-the-curtain look at villains’ acts of vengeance, defiance, and rage–and the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow that spurned them on. No fairy tale will ever seem quite the same again!
So the set up of this anthology of villainous short stories was that 13 YA authors were each paired with 13 different BookTubers to create a short story between them. Each BookTuber gave their YA author a unique prompt from which the author was then tasked with creating a short story.
On a whole the short stories in this book to me feel more like brief draft outlines of what could be novellas. It’s as if the writers took their thoughts & then just condensed them down to fit a short story rather than how they would normally expand for a longer novel/novella. Whereas they should have been focusing on crafting something small & perfectly formed in its brevity. I have read stories that are mere pages long and they can leave a lasting impression especially when it comes to villains. I can only point you towards another YA short story collection, Tangleweed and Brine, that I have also read to show an example of short stories that pack so much powerful emotion into a matter of pages. For me short stories are all about writing & careful editing.
I also found issue with the thematic nature of these short stories. To me, most of the writers treated the villainy aspect as too black & white. I like my villains to be a little greyer than most of these are. Many of the stories are plotted along the lines of building up the reader for a big switch or reveal by having a convenient murder or similar. It’s boring!! And when the writers do try to show the greyer aspects of villainy it just fails miserably because the theme is too overreaching & in my opinion most of the writers didn’t feel as if they could subvert that villainy concept enough because of it’s dominance. It made for a dull reading experience because as a reader I knew starting each short story that there was supposed to be a baddie and it would probably be a twist.
THERE WERE NO TWISTS!!!
Just predictable outcomes everywhere.
And the BookTuber aspect? They were a hindrance to the writing more than anything and their respective “notes” on each short story that they prompted were beyond cringeworthy. The notes ranged from failed attempts at wit and humour to feeling like a very rushed book review that a student would write in the five minutes before they are due to hand it in for their class!
But it’s their prompts that were the worst. A prompt should be just a hint or guideline and allow the writer of the story some leeway in the outcome. Too many times the prompts in this collection were much too restrictive (frequently telling the writers the ending they should have) & therefore the writing was shackled and the individual creative processes of the YA writers stifled.
I would like to point out the entirely redundant train of thought that must have gone into determining the order of these stories in this collection. Frequently stories felt as if they were placed in the wrong position in this book. I can only relate this to my own experience of creating playlists of my favourite songs; I have a format. I like to start with a strong opener be it either uptempo or incredibly emotive & then I arrange the rest of the playlist in a manner that it flows. Moments of crescendo and decrescendo and brief periods of stable calm or prolonged intensity. It just makes for a more appealing listen for me & I think a similar approach should be taken when editing a short story anthology.
If I was feeling charitable I would rate this collection 2 stars because there were some stories I liked.
But I hated this reading experience so much that I can only rate this 1 star. I wish I could have my €10.99 back….
What follows are brief feelings I had about each short story
The Blood of Imuriv
Writer: Renée Ahdieh
Prompt: Christine Riccio
Dear god make it stop!!!
I mean this is not the most optimistic start to this anthology at all. The writing felt incredibly unnatural, stilted even. A short story needs to grab the attention more quickly or at least have the reader asking questions as to what is going on from a curious viewpoint.
This was an exercise in how not to open an anthology of short stories.
Legit don’t care one iota about the outcome & was I supposed to be shocked??? Yeah I was just bored
The Evil Vaccine: Keep the Darkness at Bay
Booktuber notes: Christine Riccio(PolandbananasBOOKS)
Eh was this supposed to be funny??? Excuse me while I go searching for the wit in the midst of all these tired assed cliches.
Prompt: Tina Burke
I never knew that Ameriie wrote stories. To me she’s that singer who sings 1 Thing from the soundtrack to Will Smith’s rom-com Hitch. I love the film but I ADORE the song!! I mean that woah-oh-woah-ohhh hook gets me every time. And that “my high heels are clicking towards your door” line…. LOVES IT!!!
Why am I telling you all this?? Well I feel like I’ve to say something nice about Ameriie because I did not like this AT ALL!!! The writing….. Oh dear…. The words juvenile, basic, prosaic spring to mind. The reworked story of Jack & the Beanstalk failed to capture my imagination at all. And excuse me while I just stab myself in the eyeball for every time she used the word magic with a k. Okay I get it. Magic with a k is meant to depict the more occult aspect of magic but it’s painful to my eyes & this was too syrupy light to even dare to think it had any of the weight of a story shrouded in magick!
Giants and Tyrants
Booktuber notes: Tina Burke(The Lushables)
Well at least this was an attempt to discuss / interpret the short story & explore the reasons behind the prompt that Tina Burke gave to Ameriie. I disagreed with the strength of the significance that she thought the story gave to the process of growing up but I appreciated the more thoughtful aspect to these notes even if they felt like someone’s rushed homework.
Gwen and Art and Lance
Writer: Soman Chainani
Prompt: Samantha Lane
Yay! I didn’t hate it!!!
However in a world of 1 star stories that’s faint praise really. It was nice, cutesy & a surprisingly enjoyable interpretation of King Arthur’s court mashed up apparently with a little bit of Persephone and Hades…. (I didn’t feel much of the latter but semantics!) Written in a text / email style format which although quite unoriginal these days in contemporary set YA gave this story a snappy feeling compared to what has gone before. A looser interpretation of the villain idea, more morally ambiguous and denial of the self to create a villain-esque character which I also preferred. I don’t like to be told this person is bad because they are a murderer etc but more someone has slightly questionable ethics. Makes for a more interesting villain. But I’m still not sold on the villain theme in this… I’m being kind really because I didn’t hate it but it’s a loooong way from being a story I could be transfixed by.
The Bad Girl Hall of Fame
Booktuber notes: Samantha Lane(Thoughts on Tomes)
Again this feels like I’m reading someone’s rushed homework. I don’t disagree with any of the ideas portrayed here & I do feel like the story managed to get across some of the themes that Samantha Lane talks about in her notes. But gosh this feels as if written on a similarly amateur basis to one of my own reviews on GR and I certainly wouldn’t presume to ever put my thoughts in a novel.
Shirley and Jim
Writer: Susan Dennard
Prompt: Sasha Alsberg
It’s all very vanilla really isn’t it. I think the problem with these stories so far is that none of them can be taken on face value. As a reader you begin them with a sense of caution because you are awaiting the arrival of the villain of the piece. And sadly this one didn’t twist or subvert or surprise. Yes it’s a modern spin on Sherlock Holmes & his nemesis Moriarty with Sherlock becoming naïve & innocent Shirley but it’s predictable. And predictable is boring.
At least there’s a nice enough flow to the narrative but name dropping Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes me want to hurl… Can’t stand his work; beautiful & thoughtful as it is, it’s riddled with misogyny & reinforcement of rape culture…. Feel like scrapping a mark from this story for that fact alone….
Dear Sasha, The 411 for Villains
Booktuber notes: Sasha Alsberg(abookutopia)
Excuse me while I search for the point of this…
Was this supposed to be witty??? Spoiler alert it wasn’t. Can guarantee you I won’t be reading Sasha’s foray into novel writing if this is an example of her grasp of the written word. Prosaic and insipid.
The Blessing of Little Wants
Writer: Sarah Enni
Prompt: Sophia Lee
Can I DNF yet??? Struggling to care…
Struggle for power, acceptance, immortality, right, wrong…. Blah blah. Didn’t give one jot! Again not surprised by the villainy in the storyline. I hate not being surprised when I think that’s the whole point….
Will the Real Villain Please Stand Up?
Notes by the book-tuber Sophia Lee(thebookbasement)
Nice short piece. Again not a huge amount of insight into what has gone before but the least annoying of all these notes so far
The Sea Witch
Writer: Marissa Meyer
Prompt: Zoë Herdt
Gosh it pains me to say this but I liked it. It pains me because Marissa Meyer and I have history. Let’s just say I was not a fan of the Lunar Chronicles! But anyway!! This is a loose reworking of The Little Mermaid & I will always love that story. Finally a story with an actual plot that was entertaining but still sadly, ever so predictable. Again this villain concept is interpreted in a much too straightforward fashion for my taste. At every attempted twist I feel let down because it’s basically signposted and nothing is surprising. So even here in the most enjoyable story to date I feel let down by the staleness of the plot. But props to the overall feel of the writing and for creating an engaging lead character!
Villain or Hero? You Decide
Booktuber notes: Zoë Herdt(readbyzoe)
Well this has been the most warmly written notes so far. I at least felt there was some part of the personality of the booktuber in this. Again it’s somewhat redundant in that it feels like someone writing homework about the previous story and the efficacy of the questionnaire was questionable at best! But it was cute.
I really do feel like these booktubers missed a trick though. They had a great opportunity to profess their love for reading & being part of a prompting process but none of that joy or indeed joy for that privilege is coming across.
Writer: Cindy Pon
Prompt: Benjamin Alderson
So this one I think I like. [possible spoilers]
But I can argue against not liking it too as you could reason that it reinforces a notion of rape culture if you take it at face value. Because who is the true villain of this piece?
If you believe it’s the Medusa-esque MC well then we have a problem.
Because she isn’t a villain.
She is an outright victim of rape culture.
And she suffers the greatest case of victim shaming & blaming by her enforced transformation to monster as a punishment for the heinous crime committed against her.
And then through this transformation she becomes a villain that terrorises / kills people by her hideous appearance.
So if you look on the surface you would go woah!!! This is victim shaming. But I think this story asks you to look a little deeper. To question what is true villainy.
In this the the villain of the piece is the shame placed on our MC’s shoulders for what happened to her. The villain is not one person. It is those around her who created her monster. It’s those around her who instead of seeing the crime committed against her took the easy option & called her a villain for no longer being pure & virginal rather than seeing the villainous crime which she suffered.
Best story so far as the lines between black and white were blurred. And a great interpretation of the loosest prompt so far too. I think what this shows is that if you just give the authors a seed rather than a whole plant then the resulting story can be written in a more imaginative fashion.
But the thing is that this story could be problematic if you don’t take a step back & ask yourself that question about what is a true villain. How are villains made?? Like is it negative to say that she was raped & then turned into a monster? Is that giving a bad impression of rape victims.
So on one hand I love it.
But on the other I have issues.
Without the Evil in the World, How Do We See the Good
Booktuber notes: Benjamin Alderson(Benjaminoftomes)
This is what I like!! I read this after writing my own review of the short story (as I have been doing for each story) and this is what I want. It’s basically a review of the story that talks about the rape culture aspect & how this is an open ended story about questioning villainy versus victim shaming. Good stuff.
Writer: Victoria Schwab
Prompt: Jesse George
In this anthology this appears to be one of the better stories because it does draw the reader in & has a definite plot. But it’s still only average at best. Feels much too predictable & I did not enjoy the prose. I simply don’t need all those minor details described to me in that much depth as it detracts from the main event of the story. I get that it’s about creating atmosphere but this suffered from descriptive writing overload. A little more subtlety would have gone a long way. What I did like was that the concept of villainy wasn’t entirely thrown in the reader’s face. It was somewhat more ambiguous even if the ending was nagain predictable…such an overriding problem with these stories. But set in Ireland. Really? Yes it had a Celtic touch with references to wells etc but didn’t exactly feel the true rub of the green here & was very loose with the use of the anglicised Beltane rather than Bealtaine…
Booktuber notes: Jesse George(JessetheReader)
A letter to death with some nice sentiments but quite written in rather an amateur fashion. Nice thoughts about the views of Death being both a villain & hero. Would have been interesting to have had a little more of they ambiguity in the main short story.
Writer: Samantha Shannon
Prompt: Regan Perusse
Took me over 24hrs to focus & read this! I think my willingness to be distracted speaks volumes. It’s an interesting idea and one of the better treatments of the villainy idea with the introduction of many seemingly morally ambiguous characters but the writing just chilled me. It took too long for the story to gather momentum & right when I began to become invested in the characters it ended.
Missed potential, 2.5/5
Booktuber notes: Regan Perusse(PeruseProject)
Wow.! Well this felt utterly juvenile. Well intentioned review & valid opinions about female empowerment but supremely poorly executed
You, You, It’s All About You
Writer: Adam Silvera
Prompt: Caitriona Feeney
Don’t hate it but don’t love it. Not sure I really like it either though! Okay so I did like the idea of the MC & her constant reinvention to escape from her past but she seemed too shallow characterisation-wise. I felt this short story missed a trick with her character development & we never got to feel what truly made her tick. There is as ever a fine line in storytelling between show & tell. I get that this main character marched to her own drum beat & was therefore quite isolated. But if there had been a little less time devoted to describing the sense of isolation & more care given to making the reader feel it then this story could have been so much better. As it was I felt as isolated from this main character as she did from the rest of the world.
Behind the Villain’s Mask
Booktuber notes: Caitriona Feeney(LittleBookOwl)
Well if I had to choose a mask right now it would be…. NONE OF THEM FOR CRYING OUT LOUD rolls eyes. This was entirely puerile, utterly pointless & simply annoying to read.
Julian Breaks Every Rule
Writer: Andrew Smith
Prompted by Raeleen Lemay
*eye FREAKING roll*
There is a place in hell reserved for this story. I loathe it. Everything about it is everything I hate. I love an unlikeable git of an MC. Especially when they’re morally ambiguous or even better completely amoral. But this was the biggest steaming pile of a cliched hyperbolic mess. I can’t. I just can’t… I’m definitely too old for this.
Julian Powell: Teen Psycho Extraordinaire
Booktuber notes: Raeleen Lemay(padfootandprongs07)
I vehemently disagree with Raeleen’s analysis of this story & their belief that this was gripping / did not want it to end etc. What I will say is that at least it felt well written even though I disputed every single positive aspect they claimed was executed well in the short story.
Indigo and Shade
Writer: April Genevieve Tucholke
Prompt: Whitney Atkinson
So this story basically came with its own unmarked spoilers so predictable was it…. BUT DAMN IT!!! I do enjoy a good old doomed romance.
However there was this….
“The first time I saw Indigo… I was half naked, stripped to my waist, wearing nothing but my muscled abs & my designer jeans…
…Indigo gasped when she saw me. Of course she did.
I have gorgeous blonde hair, thick & glossy – it curls up at the ends like little twists of sunshine. I have sea-green eyes & healthy, glowing skin. I’d been running & hunting & fighting since I was a kid, and I looked like a god – tight waist, long legs, big pecs”
Eh who exactly does this guy think he is???? HE IS NO DAEMON BLACK FROM LUX!!!!
Ah it’s a shame, there was some fabulous trashtastic aspects to this short but it just lacked a little in the addictive page turning quality I was looking for. The writing just wasn’t quite sparky enough; I guess if you’ve got such a super confident MC the story then needs a little more wit & banter to counteract it & make it a little more than just about abs and a mysterious damsel in distress!
Glamorised Recovery: Expectations vs Reality
Booktuber notes: Whitney Atkinson(WhittyNovels)
This wasn’t a piece that I felt had any bearing on the companion short story & therefore there felt like there was somewhat of a discord between the writer and the booktuber. Instead this piece focused on the similarities between villains & heroes and the fine line between the two. And it was dull AF!
Writer: Nicola Yoon
Prompt: Steph Sinclair & Kat Kennedy
This was okay from Nicola Yoon. It didn’t make me want to repeatedly stab myself in the eye ball like ‘Everything, Everything’ or ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ did. And I appreciated her efforts to be darker & having a more open ended finish to her story for a change.
The Bad Girls’ Guide to Villainy
Booktuber notes: Steph Sinclair & Kat Kennedy(Cuddlebuggery)
They actually quoted Miley Cyrus…
Read December 2017
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