Book Review: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

Title: All of Us Villains
Author: Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication date: November 9, 2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Blood Moon rises. The Blood Veil falls. The Tournament begins.

Every generation, at the coming of the Blood Moon, seven families in the remote city of Ilvernath each name a champion to compete in a tournament to the death.

The prize? Exclusive control over a secret wellspring of high magick, the most powerful resource in the world–one thought long depleted.

This year, thanks to a salacious tell-all book, the seven champions are thrust into worldwide spotlight, granting each of them new information, new means to win, and most importantly: a choice – accept their fate or rewrite their story.

But this is a story that must be penned in blood.

All of Us Villains, like a certain incredibly successful YA book trilogy, centers on a fight to the death. Participating families each choose a champion, and their tasks is simple: Kill all the other champions, or be killed yourself.

For centuries, the seven key families of Ilvernath have participated in the tournament, a deathly serious competition that occurs once each generation, heralded by the arrival of the Blood Moon. Each of the seven families chooses, by their own means, the person to represent the family interests. The winning family gains control over high magick, which is available to no one else — in fact, none but the victorious family can even perceive it, yet alone use it.

With such high stakes, it’s no wonder that the families are obsessed with winning. Some families groom their offspring from childhood with a single-minded focus on victory at all costs. Some engage in desperate attempts to curry favor with the spellmakers and cursemakers whose devices and enchantments can mean the literal difference between life and death for the competitors. And there’s one family who has never, ever won, but still they compete — and it’s rumored that this family is the one which did the unthinkable and shared the secrets of the tournament’s existence through the scandalous book, A Tradition of Tragedy.

Now the whole world is watching to see the newest round of the tournament unfold, and the champions are under immense pressure and scrutiny like never before. Additionally, government agents from outside Ilvernath seem to be very, very interested in the tournament and its outcome… and meanwhile, seven teens from seven families are preparing to face their fears and kill their opponents in a bloody, unbreakable competition.

In All of Us Villains, we gain entry to this strange and dangerous world through four main characters. As we alternate chapters between these characters’ points of view, we learn more about their families, their backgrounds, their own personal stakes, and most importantly, just how far they’re willing to go to stay alive and win glory for their families.

The tournament, as described in this fast-paced, thickly-detailed novel, is disturbing and dark and incredibly dangerous. The champions are all skilled, to one extent or another, in casting spells and curses, and must rely on their magical talents, as well as their wits, their ability to manipulate, and their powers of persuasion, to both form alliances and yet make sure they’re the last one standing. (Kind of like Survivor, but with death and magick.)

In The Hunger Games, the districts’ tributes are chosen at random, forced to compete as ongoing punishment by the Capital. No one actually wants their children to compete. Not so in All of Us Villains. Here, it’s all about power. The seven families are party to the curse that created the tournament so many centuries earlier. Without the tournament, the high magick becomes unreachable to everyone, something the families cannot tolerate — so they groom their children and celebrate their selection as champions, then send them out to win or die.

What kind of people think it’s an acceptable loss to put forward their own children in the hopes of attaining power? Clearly, none of the families could be considered good-hearted, although the champions’ own weighing in on the scale of good vs evil is up for debate.

I found myself completely captivated by this compelling, dangerous fight to the death. The story is so dire, and the contestants are all so doomed. There’s no way out, and they know it. They also all know that their families are sending them into this tournament to kill or be killed, and no matter how confident some families are about their chances, the fact remains, six of the seven will be dead before the tournament ends.

The action is non-stop, but there’s compelling character development too — at least for the four characters whose points of view we get to experience. As for the other three competitors — well, it’s hard to care about them too much when we only see them from the outside, and while we get hints of personality, they’re clearly not the ones to pay attention to.

While I couldn’t put the book down, there are a few reasons why this doesn’t quite rise to 5-star level for me:

  • It’s a bit over-complicated. We need to learn the distinguishing characteristics of the seven families, keep the competitors straight, learn about the tournament’s Relics and Locations, understand the difference between common magic, raw magic, and high magic, and keep track of an endless list of curses and spells. It’s a lot. I’m not usually a fan of character lists or glossaries at the start of books, but here, it would have been helpful.
  • The four main characters have a tendency to blend together. Their motivations and backstories are important, but pieces seem to shift too often — and maybe this is really just part of the previous bullet point, but it gets to be too much to track.
  • This is not a complete story!! This is perhaps my biggest complaint. I didn’t know before I started, and there’s nothing on the cover or in the description to state this… but this is only book 1! The book ends, but the story doesn’t conclude. We end at a turning point, but it feels just like a random stopping point in the action rather than the end of a section. As of the end of the book, the tournament is still ongoing! Book #2 (no name yet, as far as I can see) is listed as due out in 2022 (per Goodreads), but it’s a little frustrating to get this absorbed in a story and then have it abruptly… end. Argh.

Of course, if I didn’t feel invested, I wouldn’t mind so much that the story just stops. So, my response is decidedly mixed: I really got into the story, but I’m really frustrated that this is only the first part!

One more minor quibble: I have the hardest time with the book’s title! It nibbles at my comfort… it doesn’t quite feel grammatically correct to me, but I suppose that depends on how it’s meant. Is it the start of a sentence — “All of us villains… went to the supermarket”, for example? In that case, it’s wrong. Is it just a description of the group — “all of us villains” — kind of just hanging out there as a phrase? I don’t love it; don’t know quite what to do with it. Is it a more elegant statement of who they are — “All of us. Villains.” or “All of us, villains.” I could live with that, but then the title is missing punctuation. Someone stop me. I know I’m being ridiculous.

In any case…

Overall, this book is one to read in one huge sitting, if you can. It’s easy to become obsessively involved with the intricacies of the plot and the complex inner workings of the characters. There is such a sense of doom hanging over the whole thing — this is the least cheerful YA story I’ve read in a long time! Still, it’s a terrific read, and I suppose my intense frustration is just another sign that I enjoyed the hell out of this book.

Will I remember the details by the time the sequel arrives? Probably not, but that’s what re-reading is for.

If you’re looking for a weird tale of magic and murder, set in a world that’s very similar to our own in so many ways, but with a deadly difference, definitely check out All of Us Villains.

PS – For more about All of Us Villains, check out this discussion with the authors over on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. So interesting!

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

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