Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)
Series: All of Us Villains – Book One
Length: 388 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The writing team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman presents their first awesome joint novel, with the impressive and dark young adult fantasy book, All of Us Villains.
Foody and Herman are both established authors, having previously released cool-sounding novels and series, such as Foody’s bestselling The Shadow Game series and Herman’s The Devouring Gray novels. While I have not had the opportunity to check out either of these authors’ previous books, I was very interested by All of Us Villains when I first heard about it a few months ago. I loved the unique and compelling plot synopsis, and I was also intrigued by all the buzz from other reviewers. I instantly jumped on it once I received my own copy and I was very impressed with its clever and compelling story.
In a world still powered by spells and curses, nothing is more precious than high magick, which can super-charge any spell and provide its wielder with insane amounts of power. The only reliable source of high magick left in the world can be found in the remote city of Ilvernath, a dour and depressing settlement whose prosperity and fame can be traced to seven ancient families. The ability to see and manipulate this high magick can only belong to one family at a time, and control ensures their prosperity for an entire generation. However, to gain this right, each family must make an unbelievable sacrifice.
Every generation, when the Blood Moon starts to rise, a magical tournament is enacted that pits the very best of the families against each other. However, this is no gentle tournament of magick; it is a brutal, curse-created fight to the death, with each family forced to nominate a young champion to represent them. Only one champion can survive the tournament, and no-one ever emerges unscathed.
Twenty years after the last competition, a new Blood Moon starts to rise, and the families make ready for the latest battle for supremacy. However, this tournament will be very different than any before. Someone from the seven families has published a tell-all book, detailing every aspect of the tournament and informing the world of the hidden atrocities that have been committed in the name of power. With the world now obsessed with every aspect of the tournament, all attention is now focussed on Ilvernath and the seven champions.
Thrust into the public spotlight, all seven champions must now deal with the intense infamy the tournament produces as they prepare to fight. Forced to balance their own feelings on death and survival with the intense pressure placed upon them by their families and tradition, none are truly ready for the horrors they will be forced to endure. However, this tournament also offers its competitors a chance to survive and end the curse that has blighted their families for centuries. But not all the competitors are willing to give up the chance of ultimate power and are prepared to pay any price to win. Let the games begin!
Damn, now this was a really great novel. The brilliant new writing team of Foody and Herman produced an outstanding book in All of Us Villains, and I really got stuck into its story incredibly quickly. The authors did a wonderful job of utilising a new version of the always popular teenage death tournament to fit into a brilliant and moving narrative. Filled with complex characters and intense personal moments, All of Us Villains is an awesome and powerful book that I deeply enjoyed.
All of Us Villains has an excellent narrative that is a lot of fun to get into. Focused on four of the seven participants of the latest death tournament, this is an amazing character driven story that really dives into the protagonists’ psyches as they prepare for the ultimate challenge. The authors do an awesome job setting the scene for this fantastic story, and the readers are quickly hooked by the four complex main characters and the interesting scenario. Roughly the first half of the book is dedicated to the setup before the tournament begins, which I think ensured the perfect balance between development and bloodshed. You come away from the first half appreciating each of the characters and deeply caring about the outcome of the upcoming battle. I was particularly impressed with one great early twist that surrounded one main character’s family preparations, and it added some major impact to his storyline. Once the tournament begins, readers are in for a whirlwind of emotions and excitement as all the characters enact their strategy to win while all bearing a heavy emotional weight or magical handicap. There are some intense and captivating sequences here and the readers are constantly on the edge of their seat, especially with some unique interactions, alliances and motivations, including one character who attempts to destroy the entire tournament from the inside. This all leads up to a devastating and powerful conclusion, filled with death, despair, betrayal and complete emotional devastation, as all the characters make their choices and everything crumbles around them.
I really loved this cool narrative and I found myself getting really caught up in the constant heartbreak and bloodshed. I am a massive fan of the teenage death tournament premise, and the authors do a great job of working this established story elements into their setting extremely well. While there isn’t as much intense violence in the actual tournament as some readers would probably hope, I think that the authors’ choice to focus on the characters and their intense emotions about being forced into this fight by their families turned All of Us Villains into a better book. The authors’ use of multiple character perspectives works extremely well here, especially as it forces you to choose between your favourite characters as you try and work out who you want to survive, while also ensuring a really in-depth look at the setting and the tournament. While I did find the final twist of this novel slightly predictable, the rest of the reveals and unpredictable actions were really cool, and I was shocked and surprised multiple times while reading. This was also a great first entry, with the story ending on a compelling final note that will ensure that I will be coming back for the next book. This was a deeply accessible and enjoyable read that has a lot of appeal to a vast array of varied readers, especially its intended young adult audience who will really love the complex story, clever setting and fantastic characters.
I had a lot of fun with the captivating and inventive setting and scenario that the authors have come up with for All of Us Villains. While the world itself is a bit of a familiar alternate world with magic, the town of Ilvernath and the tournament it hosts more than makes up for it. The authors spend a substantial amount of time establishing the setting, showcasing how the participants live, the vile history surrounding their families, as well as the tournament which plays a major role in their existence. The people of Ilvernath, especially the seven families, are explored in detail, and it was fascinating to see the various opinions and expectations surrounding them. This becomes even more apparent as a clever media saturation element is worked into the narrative as the tournament has been exposed to the public and has gained substantial attention, changing the entire nature of the tournament. Excerpts from the tell-all-book that caused this attention are featured at the start of each chapter, which I deeply enjoyed. Not only is it fascinating to see an inside perspective on the events, the families, and the tournament history, but it helps to expand the lore of this world in a fun way. I also quite enjoyed the cool magical system of this novel, which is channelled through spell-laden rings powered. The authors spend a lot of time exploring this magical system, especially as they show off various aspects of it, including spell/curse crafting and the subsequent casting. You get a real sense of how this system works in a very short amount of time, and there are some unique and intense spells that get chucked into the mix, resulting in some big story moments.
The highlight of All of Us Villains is the death tournament, which gets a lot of attention and development. The authors perfectly explain the lore, rules, and quirks of the tournament, and it is fascinating to see it unfold once the characters are thrown into it. Cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier, the participants need to kill each other within a set period or else everyone left alive will die. There are some fantastic rules and inclusions set into this tournament, including seven artefacts with their own unique benefits and seven strongholds that the champions can hold up in. These items and strongholds have their own significance and connections to the seven families, and it was interesting to see their impact on the events of the tournament. The authors’ clever use of excerpts from the tell-all book works extremely well to highlight elements of the tournament, and I loved all this crucial part of the book. There are also some new elements introduced for this specific tournament, as parts of the curse start to break apart due to the unpredictable actions of the participants. This opens new opportunities and possibilities that were quite fascinating to see. I look forward to seeing what happens around this tournament in rest of this series, especially as more bloodshed and destruction is inevitable.
As I mentioned multiple times above, the best thing about this cool book is the fantastically complex and compelling central characters. The focus of All of Us Villains is on the seven participants of the tournament, with a particular emphasis on the four main characters. The authors really dive into these four characters, highlighting their personalities, emotions, and their thoughts on the tournament they are about to embark on. Each character is very well established, and there are some extremely complex and powerful storylines and character arcs set up around them. It is a testament to the authors’ writing that I tended to enjoy each separate perspective about equally, and there were none that I disliked more than any of the others, which is a real peril in novels with a lot of narrators. I will say that this intense focus on only four of the main characters does detract a lot of attention and interest away from the rest of the supporting cast, especially the three other family champions, but I think it is worth it for the impressive development put into the central protagonists.
The first of these characters is Alistair Lowe, the powerful scion of the Lowe family. The Lowes win most of the tournaments and are generally considered the villains of Ilvernath and its history due to their monstrous personalities. Alistair has been raised his entire life to win the tournament by any means necessary and has fully accepted his role as the monster of the story, even if he isn’t as evil as everyone assumes or wants him to be. However, an interesting and unexpected romance soon starts to change his mind and he is convinced that changing his ways and saving the others might be a good idea. However, a particularly vicious twist towards the end of the novel completely alters the entire trajectory of his character arc and will leave you reeling in shock while it loads up the epic feels. I felt that out of all the characters, Alistair had the most moving and complex storyline as well as the most substantial development, and he swiftly becomes the character you bond with the most. I am deeply intrigued to see what happens to him in the next book and I have a feeling that there is both great tragedy and great evil in his future.
The next central champion is Isobel Macaslan, a bright and powerful magick user from a highly resented family. I loved the great work that the authors put into developing her. At first Isobel appears to be one of the most confident and enthusiastic figures in this book, especially as she is the one leaning into the publicity surrounding the tournament the most. However, it soon becomes apparent that she was forced to be champion thanks to the machinations of her uncaring family and her former best friend, who threw her to the press. Isobel has a lot of issues going into the tournament, with the mass attention and the unfair expectations placed upon her forcing her to take some big risks which severely disadvantage her as she enters the tournament. Isobel ends up developing some unique connections throughout All of Us Villains, and the friendships and relationships she develops form the emotional heart of much of the narrative. The reader sees Isobel go to some dark places in this book and it is hard to see all the heartbreak and despair she experiences.
I was also a major fan of the underdog Gavin Grieve, who has an amazingly complex and relatable story arc. Gavin is the champion from the Grieve family, who have never won the tournament and are generally looked down upon by everyone in town. Gavin is a sad and angry character since everyone underestimates him and his chances, while also showering him with scorn as it was apparently a Grieve who wrote the tell-all expose about the tournament. This anger leads to him making a dangerous deal that provides him with impressive power at a great price. This was an amazing story inclusion, especially as it turns Gavin into a bit of a beast due to finally having power and an advantage over the other families. This leads him to do some reckless and cruel things, and it was fascinating to see the events of the tournament and its bloody legacy slowly corrupt this character before your eyes.
The final point-of-view character was Briony Thorburn, the confident wildcard. Unlike all the other major characters, Briony wants to compete in the tournament and has spent her entire life getting ready for it, going as far as to dump her boyfriend, one of the other competitors, so she would feel less guilty about killing him. However, events outside of her control impact her participation and she is forced to take some drastic actions. This leads to her significantly reconsidering her position and gives her a fantastic arc about trying to save all her fellow participants and try to break the tournament once and for all. Watching her attempt to make up for all her past mistakes while also convincing the other champions to change hundreds of years of tradition is pretty brilliant, and I found it to be a compelling arc that fleshed out the story perfectly.
In their first collaboration, the brilliant team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have produced one of the best young adult fantasy novels of 2021 with All of Us Villains. This amazing novel contains an excellent story set around an intense magical teenage death tournament that takes the reader into some incredible directions. Filled with tragedy, impressive character development, and a ton of impressive twists, All of Us Villains is an exceptional read that comes highly recommended novel.