Please note: this is an advanced reader review of “Evil Thing” by Serena Valentino and thus does not contain spoilers but it does provide some description and analysis of aspects of the story. Please proceed accordingly.
In the end, everything isn’t always as black-and-white as the markings on a Dalmatian puppy. Even for an evil thing like Cruella De Vil.
But some things are as black-and-white as Cruella’s hair… like just how good this book really is, even when compared to its high caliber predecessors.
Evil Thing: A Tale of That De Vil Woman is my favorite Disney Villains novel by Serena Valentino (so far!). Surpassing my long-reigning favorite Fairest of All, Evil Thing is told by Cruella herself and is more deeply character-driven than prior villains stories. With a swish of her fur coat and an appropriate amount of ‘darling!’, Cruella dramatically enters our hearts and minds in a complex and clever origin story of her own making. Evil Thing brings a new flavor to the series while employing the most effective storytelling tools from Valentino’s repertoire.
“I suppose I could start my story here in Hell Hall, where all my marvelous plans were born from the darkness.”
We are familiar with the old De Vil estate in the country – that which Cruella so fondly refers to as ‘Hell Hall’ – from Disney’s 101 Dalmations. Along with Cruella, that decrepit, spooky mansion where Horace and Jasper not-so-successfully babysit all those puppies is our storyteller. We also know of Cruella’s cruel intentions for those precious pups thanks to the film. So, what more is there to know about ‘this vampire bat, this inhuman beast’? So much more.
Like Fairest of All, Evil Thing transports the reader to the protagonist’s time and place. We find ourselves walking the halls of Lord De Vil’s grandiose mansion in ‘Belgravia’ (it even sounds grand, doesn’t it?). Not to mention Cruella’s “lessons in French, watercolor painting, needlepoint, reading, and writing” help set the scene of her childhood.
That ‘Clark Gable smile’ Cruella’s father so handsomely wears coupled with her mother’s jewel-dripping beauty provide the cherry on top for our introduction to Cruella’s lavish life. Valentino’s fondness for morning rooms plays out in this story too – it is described as cozy and beautiful, with its window-filled walls and French doors that lead to the terrace, though it is most significantly the room Cruella’s mother prefers.
Like The Beast Within, Valentino meaningfully juxtaposes superficial happiness – wealth and status – with meaningful relationships. Cruella’s denial and distorted measure of ‘love’ is cause for appropriate angst throughout the story. Cruella relishes in her desire to be a ‘lady’ but paves her own confident, quirky, yet entitled path. The character exploration conducted in Evil Thing is unlike any villains novel before it.
Unlike Poor Unfortunate Soul which was, in some ways, too close to The Little Mermaid, and Mistress of All Evil which was far removed from Sleeping Beauty, Evil Thing is the Goldilocks of the series – its balance with 101 Dalmations is just right.
Evil Thing so profoundly thrusts the reader into Cruella’s childhood and early experiences that the film is a postscript: Evil Thing drives 101 Dalmations, not the other way around. It is consistent with the Disney story but takes on a life of its own. In this way, Valentino cements her Villains-writing stride – expressing an unfiltered confidence in her own storytelling – and in doing so reminds fans why she is the ultimate voice for Disney’s villains.
Like Mother Knows Best and The Odd Sisters, the introduction of original characters in Evil Thing takes us into a new dimension of Disney. These characters are not two-dimensional supporting players in Cruella’s story – they have their own baggage, guilt, motivations and opinions. Inspired by television series like Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, Evil Thing inspires a whole new level of complex relationships and audience immersion. One that is – in true Valentino villains style – turbulent, tragic and enthralling.
While Lord Silverton’s character in the book is “perfect and boring, like vanilla ice cream”, Valentino’s Evil Thing is “a many tiered cake, with alternating dark chocolate and vanilla layers.” It is a mature, complex and confronting origin story with a mother-daughter relationship never before seen in the Disney universe.
Fans will be too busy riding a seesaw of sympathy in Evil Thing to notice that some of their favorite characters from prior books are not mentioned. Valentino manages this artfully, providing us with yet another reason why Cruella’s story ultimately succeeds in distinguishing itself.
Evil Thing is now available for preorder on Amazon.
Author Serena Valentino has taken the world by storm with her best-selling Disney Villains novels published by Disney Press. Not only do Valentino’s stories give readers the opportunity to explore villains they know and love, readers are also introduced to new characters that operate behind the scenes of classic Disney plots, giving tales-as-old-as-time a bewitching new twist.
The books in the series are as follows and are best enjoyed if read in this order:
- Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen [Read my review here.]
- The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince [Read my review here.]
- Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch [Read my review here.]
- Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy [Read my review here.]
- Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch [Read my review here.]
- The Odd Sisters: A Tale of the Three Witches [Read my review here.]
- Evil Thing: A Tale of That De Vil Woman
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