Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward has been on my reading list for years. I read Animist when I was in HS and am still disappointed there hasn’t been a sequel. But to be honest, VbN is the better book. Ironic that her debut novel is better than her second book – but it’s true. I am sad she hasn’t written more novels because I really like her writing.
So, let’s start with VbN being a book where the “heroes” are all villains – assassin, dark sorceress, thief. But in a world be subsumed by “goodness” those who want to live outside the lines ARE heroes. Those who stand up against someone’s vision of “good” to demand they should be allowed to make their own choices to be good or evil as they wish.
The irony that this book comes into my life at a time where I am struggling with ideas of “free speech” isn’t lost on me. It also makes me chuckle that this damn lens on my face colors EVERYTHING. But the message is pretty blunt – villains shouldn’t be forced to be good people; it should be a choice people are allowed to make. And make again tomorrow. And motives matter. Someone who kills to protect is different than someone who kills for “pleasure” (ew).
The characters ARE tropes – but it’s part of the story to say that Forward explores the fact that every “villain” in the trope might have a reason or a past that makes it make more sense. Heroes might be villainous to the villains and villains might be heroes when they do something “good” even if they do it for “evil” (usually selfish) reasons. By playing UP the tropes, she explores them beautifully. Especially to anyone who has played RPGs like Skyrim or D&D they will recognize the classes used. I can’t say it will make as much sense to someone unfamiliar with the genre, but I think almost anyone can follow the story and enjoy the adventure.
The plot is clear and crisp and even when I thought it was a little predictable, Forward pulled it together by doing a few different tricks – like flipping to the “heroes” and exploring some of their motivation. She also plays into the story itself everyone understanding the way stories are “supposed to” happen – good guys win and bad guys lose. Right?
Overall, this book took me a bit to get into – probably the full 100 pages I give a book. It was a book I actually kept in my bathroom for close to six months and managed to pick-up-for-a-page and come back the next day for the next page. Because of the strength of the tropes, this worked really well. It isn’t like some “bathroom” books I’ve tried where I have to constantly go back three pages because I’m always “lost” – the plot holds throughout. It’s simple and yet the twists and turns keep it fascinating.
Seriously, find a copy of this book – it’s out of print or I would absolutely put links up. Eve Forward deserves every dollar for this book!