Disclaimer: I went into this book with very little knowledge about it other than knowing it was a Black Widow YA novel. I was sold when I heard about it. But I didn’t want to spoil myself by looking up the synopsis. I kind of wish I had because I went in expecting an origin story for Black Widow (I thought it was Disney/Marvel’s response to never giving us a Black Widow movie).
What I ended up getting was a three person point of view novel with Widow being almost a secondary character. I had a very hard time distinguishing between the three characters of Natasha, Alex, and Ava, and I found the relationship between Alex and Ava way too insta-lovey for my liking. I also saw the ending of the book coming from the first couple of chapters, so it was not a surprise when that scene happened. I honestly felt like the book was much more Ava’s origin than anything else, which would have been fine because it was a perfectly good origin story, but what annoyed me is that Black Widow was the titular character, not Ava. Also, Alex’s tattoo was never fully explained, and that bugged me to no end. Who exactly had gotten to Alex? How exactly had they gotten to him if he was living with a SHIELD agent? Why didn’t they take him if they wanted to prove that they could get to him in order to shake up Natasha?
Speaking of Natasha, it was really jarring to go from Russian to the immediate translation of whatever was said into English. While it was great that the characters were speaking their mother tongue (yay for actually staying true to their origins), it would have been more effective to have the dialogue that was taking place in Russian be in italics to signify that the English was really Russian. It felt like the author was just trying to show off that she had researched Russian phrases and, for me, it took away from the reading experience.
Another thing that took away from the reading experience was that I couldn’t tell where this book was supposed to take place – the comic universe or the MCU or some other universe. I’m assuming the MCU, but if so, then SPOILER: why was Coulson there? Because the Avengers were clearly established and referenced, so shouldn’t Coulson be, ya know, dead? Another confusing point that made me wonder whether it was in the MCU or in the comics is that the story revolves around Odessa and physicists. So is this the time that Natasha was shot by the Winter Soldier? Because according to this book, her mission was to save Ava, not the physicist. And there is absolutely no mention in the story about trying to smuggle the physicist out. So between Coulson still being very clearly alive despite the Avengers Initiative being very much a thing and Natasha being very clearly not shot, where does this story fall within the different universes?
Also, where the hell was Clint? They pulled another Captain America: Winter Soldier with this bullshit of him not existing at all. He’s Natasha’s best friend (in both the comics and the MCU) and there was absolutely no mention of him, despite several mentions of Rogers and Banner. I did enjoy the relationship that Tony and Natasha had, though.
Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the book, but I did enjoy that it read like an action novel.
I gave Black Widow: Forever Red 3 out of 5 stars