Review: Disney’s ‘City of Villains’ takes Readers Down the Rabbit Hole

I was really looking forward to reading the first installment in Estelle Laure’s City of Villains series. I have always had a soft spot for Disney villains and a particular love for modern retellings involving those classic characters in new and exciting situations. Unfortunately, I’m left feeling like a villain for not liking this story. 

Disney's City of Villains takes Readers Down the Rabbit Hole

Disney's City of Villains

Now, I recognize that City of Villains is the first introduction to the series, but I was left with more questions than I feel that I should’ve been left with. A first book shouldn’t feel like it was written purely to set up a second installment. At times it felt like characters would appear to speak and then disappear without any real connection to the scenes unfolding. The book is written from the point of view of Mary Elizabeth Heart (the Queen of Hearts) who does a lot of the world-building through reflection, rather than actual interaction with other characters.

As far as the central character goes. Eh. She’s an angsty teen, with reasonable angst considering her family was murdered, but she is oddly obsessed with becoming a cop and a little too emotionally attached to her teenage paramour James Bartholomew (or Captain Hook). She’s also friends with Ursula and Smee and I genuinely don’t understand why any of these people were friends with each other. Aside from being reimagined villains. 

I also struggled to identify what demographic this book is aimed at. The book is marketed as Young Adult, which given the plot, the romance elements, teenage drinking, and someone chopping off their boyfriend’s hand with an ax, lends itself towards a slightly older age range, but the storytelling feels juvenile at points. Perhaps because Mary Elizabeth isn’t the most emotionally mature character. 

At times it felt like it wanted to be a more mature version of Disney’s Descendants, without committing to the same level of storytelling. The book was hailed as a dark and edgy YA series that reimagined the origins of Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, and other infamous Disney Villains like “you’ve never seen before” and they would be right. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. 

As for the plot, there was a lot there that lends itself to hopefully developing into something bigger with subsequent additions to the series. Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior and intern at the Monarch City police department, envying after the careers of the detectives around her. Despite being just a teenager herself, she gets very involved in the missing person’s case involving one of her high school peers, Mally Saint, and the daughter of the city’s most powerful businessman. This one investigation sets off a series of events that brings the mystery right to Mary’s doorstep as she goes down the rabbit hole to discover her boyfriend’s secrets, the mystery behind “The Fall” of magic, and the sea monster lurking in the poisoned lake. 

I think this may be a book series that would be best read once all of the books are released. I was left frustrated by the dropped plot points, confused about where the character arcs were headed, and left wondering where the heck the Scar and its inhabitants are located. We know Michigan exists. Is this magically non-magic city somewhere in the US? How does it exist? 

I’m cautiously pessimistic about where this series is headed. The introduction to this universe has me feeling like I might’ve taken a bad magic potion. If you loved the seventh and final season of Once Upon a Time, Disney’s City of Villains may be the series for you. 

Your Money Geek thanks Disney Publishing for providing us with a free copy for a fair and honest review. Disney's City of Villains will hit shelves on January 26th, 2021.

City of Villains

14.39
3.9

Story Quality

3.5/10

World Building

5.0/10

Character Building

4.0/10

Lore Building

3.0/10
Managing Editor of Entertainment at Your Money Geek | Website | + posts

Maggie Lovitt is the Managing Editor of Entertainment at Your Money Geek, where she covers her favorite topics: Star Wars and pop culture nerdery. She is also a freelance writer and a contributor at Collider and Dorkside of the Force.

When she is not covering entertainment news, she can be found on one of her numerous podcasts or her YouTube channel. In her free time, she is also a novelist, screenwriter, actor, and a member of the Screen Actors Guild.