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Book Review: BLACK WIDOW: FOREVER RED by Margaret Stohl

The opposite of a spoiler warning: This review of Black Widow: Forever Red is spoiler-free (yippee!).

Is there such a thing as too much Black Widow? No, no there is not. The character has a layered and often dark history that makes her deadly, skilled, and absolutely fascinating. With that in mind, Marvel Press released a YA novel exploring some of that history and the character last month. Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red takes place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and explores Natasha Romanov’s past and puts her in a compromising position in the present.

The basics: One of the worst people in Natasha’s past, Ivan Somodorov, reappears on the radar about the same time as children from around Eastern Europe go missing. Red Room technology is also involved. Somodorov’s work forges a connection between Natasha and teenager Ava Orlova. Alex Manor, a teen boy connected to Ava, also gets pulled into the picture. Natasha must let down her guard in order to work with the kids to stop Somodorov from wreaking further havoc.

When you think about Black Widow, you don’t picture someone who is easy to talk to. She’s not anyone with which you’d expect to have a heart-to-heart. Stohl does a wonderful job with walking the line between letting Natasha keep the necessary walls up while still extending a welcoming hand. The way Natasha adapts to the situation and her unwanted—but very much there—bond with Ava is believable and fits with what we know about the character. She’s not completely cold and heartless, and she has a few memorable moments of compassion.

Stohl gives Natasha and Ava an open-ish relationship without making Natasha more approachable. The Black Widow doesn’t need to be approachable—let Tony Stark fill that role for the Avengers. Natasha is about getting the job done, and Stohl cracked Natasha’s exterior enough to reveal relatable slices of humanity, without making Natasha seem like the sort of person you want as your best friend. (You don’t.)

Within the story, and especially within the inquiry hearing excerpts that begin every chapter, Stohl captures Natasha’s voice as we know it from the MCU excellently. It’s easy to picture Scarlett Johansson delivering every one of the lines. It’s the same with other familiar faces who show up—faces like Coulson and Tony Stark. The entire book fits right into the established tone we’ve seen on screen.

A solid portion of the book is devoted to Black Widow, but Ava almost receives as much attention. She stands in contrast to Natasha, and develops along an interesting, if somewhat predictable, arc. That said, I didn’t find myself terribly invested in Ava or Alex and the instant yet seemingly epic romance that unfolds between them.

Overall, Black Widow: Forever Red is an engaging exploration of Natasha Romanov. By watching her interact with others, you learn more about who she is and what makes her tick. The story is peppered with excellent dry wit, action, and some warm and fuzzy moments. The non-Black Widow characters didn’t quite grab me, but the lack of attachment only detracted from the book slightly. I wanted a deeper dive into Black Widow, and I got that and came away with a greater appreciation for the character.

This review was completed using a copy of the book provided by Marvel Press.

Images: Marvel Press

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