Content notes for All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman: Child abuse (physical and psychological), murder, torture, maiming and generally a lot of blood and pain and (self)harm
- All of the kids in this novel, the champions as well as their siblings, have highly problematic upbringings, that include a variety of abuses
- There is murder and maiming even before the tournament starts, including the sacrificial slaughter of a child
- A variety of magic requires or results in self-harm, some of it voluntarily, some encouraged by the kids’ families and caretakers
Representation: I guess at least one of the characters is bi/pan? I think, it’s two guys, actually? But it’s largely irrelevant
This was … okay? It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t anywhere near what I was expecting and unfortunately not because it turned out better than I thought it would.
All of Us Villains, the collaborative work by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, is a young adult fantasy novel set in a world that’s technologically close to ours but also filled with magick (yes, with an edgy k). Common magick, which can be found everywhere and within everything, and high magick, which is far rarer – so rare in fact that people thought all its sources had dried up.
Enter: The town of Ilvernath and its secret high magic source. And the centuries old curse protecting it. Because only one of the seven great families of Ilvernath can control the wellspring. And every twenty years, they fight for that control – they fight to the death. A gruesome premise, especially as the families have to choose their champions from among their children. But it is tradition and it is the curse and it is a secret no one outside the town knows about – until now.
And this is already where one of my biggest problems with the novel sets in: The world-building. This starts out with the big reveal that the whole world now knows about Ilvernath’s secrets, thanks to a scandalous book. The town is flooded by journalists and the government gets involved. However, I have no idea what kind of government it is, where Ilvernath stands in relation to the rest of its … country? Continent? World? The world-building is entirely limited to Ilvernath and even there it’s scarce.
Ilvernath has seven great families and a whole bunch of other people living in it, some of them normal (whatever that means in this world) and some of them spellmakers. I have absolutely no clue what makes a person a spellmaker. Apparently, it’s just based on … talent? And it’s a hereditary talent, as there are spellmaker families and dynasties? But other people can also make spells, as the champions demonstrate throughout the novel. They just aren’t as good? So it really has to be an innate talent, otherwise, if you grew up knowing you’d participate in a magical duel to the death, wouldn’t you make sure, you’d be able to craft all the most dangerous spells and curses?
In general, I found the magick system to be a bit underdeveloped and the whole tournament thing lacked some backstory. So, the seven families started this curse so no one but them could use the high magick of Ilvernath and they thought it would be a good idea to have some teenagers battle it out every twenty years. And, I mean, some of those families are apparently massive but others are decidedly not – which makes me wonder just how they manage to have an eligible kid ready every time the tournament happens. Also, wouldn’t you rather not have kids than send them to their almost certain death?
This irked me especially because I just could not figure out what the deal was with high magick. What does it do? What is it used for? What is magick in general being used for? What makes it so important? Yes, okay, magick can be used as a weapon and as high magick is more powerful, it can be used as a deadlier weapon, but these people have spent generations keeping the existence of their magick wellspring under wraps – so what the hell have they been using this magick for and why do they even care?!
As I said, the world-building, including the magick system, is a bit shoddy. And so was the characterization of some of the tournament champions. There is, not very surprisingly, seven of them, one from each family, ranging from 15 to … 17? 18? Not sure. But all teenagers, all equipped with a variety of plans, magick and, most of all, trauma. Really, what else would you expect, considering they were raised to be murderers for their families’ glories. However, this also means that they are way less villainous than the title led me to expect. Mostly, they are lost and traumatized kids – even those who want to be in the tournament, their main motivation is making their families proud and really, after growing up the way they did, how is that anything but the result child abuse methods honed over centuries?
At the same time, this is were the book gets interesting. Because this is all about breaking the cycle – of the curse, the tournament, their families stories and legacies, of abuse and murder. The novel shifts between the points of view of four different champions and each of them brings a completely different attitude to the tournament but they are all determined to break some cycle or other. And I liked that. I got their motivations, though one of them was a bit … well, Briony’s character and motivations seem somewhat flexible depending on what the plot needs. But the others? Yeah, I liked them – after a while, they grew on me, even though I could really, really have done without the ridiculous insta-love thing. Refining those queer yearning for your enemy vibes would have been way nicer. But at least the whole thing did get more and more gruesome, bloody and villainous.
So, despite all, I am still kinda looking forward to the sequel of All of Us Villains. I want to know where Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman take this story and whether it ends in blood or … well, I guess less blood is the only realistic option?
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