Marvel and Disney recently released the full-length novel Black Widow Forever Red (A Marvel YA Novel). Written by Margaret Stohl, the book tells the story of a young girl named Ava Orlova, a Brooklyn teenager raised by S.H.I.E.L.D. and the streets after a mission in Odessa where she was rescued from Black Widow herself. Ava was a test subject of Ivan the Strange, the same villain responsible for the skills and history of Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow. As Ava grows, she finds herself having strange visions of a young teenage boy, Alexei. Though she has never met him, Ava is sure that he factors into her life somehow. During a fencing tournament in Philadelphia, Ava comes face to face with Alexei, aka Alex Manor. When Black Widow shows up on scene, Ava is instantly untrusting. Alex manages to crash their discussion, and soon the three are running for their lives. Due to the experiments of Ivan, the three discover that they have a psychic bond that allows Ava to know the darkest secrets of Natasha and the majority of her fighting skills and her training in The Red Room. Natasha soon discovers there is far more to Ava and Alex than should could have imagined.
For anyone who has been in an abusive situation, Black Widow Forever Red (A Marvel YA Novel)is going to be hard. Black Widow’s backstory involves a great deal of being beaten, chained up, tortured and having her family tortured as well. In short, if you’re a sensitive reader this book should probably stay on the shelf where you found it. This is not a happy book, but rather one filled with suspense and intrigue. With current Russian, Ukraine and United States politics, the book is extra careful to point out the strain but also not place blame on any particular group. Ivan, after all, has ties to the Russian government but is not the government, just as S.H.I.E.L.D. is a force for good in the United States, but not the government itself.
For readers who have been deeply wishing to know about Natasha Romanoff’s life, Black Widow: Forever Red is a fascinating piece. However, I would argue that this book, though labeled for the Young Adult reader is not a Young Adult book. Older teenage readers will be fine with the book, especially if fans of the television and film Marvel Universe, but parents of younger readers should probably delay the read for a bit. Forever Red includes very adult themes, as well as a few instances of torture and violence that would be better expected from the Agents of SHIELD TV show or The Avengers movies. There are memorable moments with Phil Coulson and Tony Stark, which help liven up the book. Natasha is fascinating, but she’s certainly not the funniest character in the Marvel Universe. Still, it was nice to see a female character get her turn in the spotlight.
Black Widow: Forever Red is out now.