I’m a simple person. I see descriptions of a book that say a The Hunger Games type competition with magic and Game of Thrones family dynamics, I read it. No questions asked.
Who, What, Where?
In the remote city of Ilvernath, seven families are bound by an ancient curse which requires that every generation they select one member to represent them as their champion in a tournament to the death. The winner earns their family exclusive control over the city’s high magic supply, the world’s most powerful resource. In the past, the villainous Lowe family has won nearly every tournament, but the recent publication of a scandalous tell-all book has suddenly thrust the competition into the international spotlight, providing the opportunity for another family to potentially take the crown.
Magic is my literary crack. So, when a book has good magic going on, it gets major brownie points. The magic system in All of Us Villains is interesting. Sure, there are foggy elements, but while I do need more explanation than ‘it’s magic’, I don’t always require a complete scientific breakdown for a system to work. Here, spells & curses are crafted using recipes with specific ingredients and either common or high magic. After, they’re placed inside a vessel, e.g. a ring, until they’re cast by the holder. Spells have different power classes and this impacts their difficulty to craft and cast. Those made using high magic are far stronger, bumping up their class, which is why control of the town’s supply is so desirable. Here, magic fantastically walks the line between requiring planning/skill and still being flexible enough to use quickly in intense situations. You can tell the authors spent time thinking about how it would function within their world and this is great considering how crucial it is to the story.
I should mention though, when it comes to the world building beyond this, things are hazy in spots. It can be difficult to understand how the broader world functions beyond the competition. This is especially the case when you consider the tell-all book revealing the competition to the world.
Let’s Get Ready to Rumble
AoUV spends a good amount of time leading up to its competition. As a result, the book has the space to properly establish each of its major characters, their families, and the tension between them. Yet, it doesn’t linger long enough to kill the anticipation. The competition kicks off around halfway, at which point I was excited for some fast, furious and brutal magical conflict. However, after a few pages, the pacing slows down a lot and focus shifts towards alliances, collecting artifacts, and the personal obstacles facing certain characters. While I didn’t mind this exactly, I wish there’d been a couple more actively aggressive competitors present to raise the stakes for the others earlier on. In other words, there aren’t any deaths for some time, so don’t expect a bloodbath right from the get-go. Although, things do eventually pick up again making for some exciting scenes, one involving a giant sea dragon and another a river of blood.
Alongside the champions fighting it out, the arena also has a few magical extras to keep things interesting – landmarks and artifacts. Landmarks act as bases of operations or strongholds for whoever claims them first. Each has its own unique benefits, so champions need to strategise wisely about which to target. Then we have artifacts. These appear in the competition at random times and bestow special abilities upon the user, such as a cloak that protects the wearer from offensive spells. I loved the idea of these (especially where one’s appearance would force champions into conflict to try and get to it first) and am keen to see more of them in the sequel.
Break the Curse
You might (not be) surprised to hear that the book also involves a ‘break the curse’ plotline. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but my feelings are mixed. I really like the direction being taken into the sequel with regards to the plot itself. However, there’s a connected subplot that arises late in the book which I found frustrating as it seems like it’s only introduced to force a conflict between two characters.
Champions with Something to Prove
For me, one of the best parts of AoUV was its characters. The book is written in limited third person from the perspective of four of the seven champions, and each has their own distinct personality, family backstory, and goals. Our cast consists of: Isobel, a talented spellcrafter pressured into representing the shady Macaslan family after being named champion by the media; Alistair, of the powerful and sinister Lowe family, raised to win from birth and taught to be a monster to survive; Briony, who has always dreamed of being the Thorburn champion and achieving hero status by winning; and lastly, Gavin, the champion of the weak and dismissed Grieves who is desperate to prove himself and regain respect for his family, whatever it takes. All four were compelling leads and I really enjoyed spending time with them. Still, I can’t help but wish they’d been slightly more “villainous” at times to increase the twists and drama.
All of Us Villains is a fun and engaging YA fantasy read that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy as much as I did. While there are things that could be improved upon, I highly recommend picking this up if it interests you. I know I’ll be looking out for the sequel next year to see how everything wraps up.
All of Us Villains will be released on November 9th 2021.
**Thank you to Netgalley & Tor for this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review**