Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (DNF Review)

Black WidowInformation

Goodreads: Black Widow: Forever Red
Series: Black Widow #1
Source: Library
Published: October 13, 2015

Official Summary

Natasha Romanoff is one of the world’s most lethal assassins. Trained from a young age in the arts of death and deception, Natasha was given the title of Black Widow by Ivan Somodorov, her brutal teacher at the Red Room, Moscow’s infamous academy for operatives.

Ava Orlova is just trying to fit in as an average Brooklyn teenager, but her life has been anything but average.The daughter of a missing Russian quantum physicist, Ava was once subjected to a series of ruthless military experiments—until she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection. Ava has always longed to reconnect with her mysterious savior, but Black Widow isn’t really the big sister type.

Until now.

When children all over Eastern Europe begin to go missing, and rumors of smuggled Red Room tech light up the dark net, Natasha suspects her old teacher has returned—and that Ava Orlova might be the only one who can stop him. To defeat the madman who threatens their future, Natasha and Ava must unravel their pasts. Only then will they discover the truth about the dark-eyed boy with an hourglass tattoo who haunts Ava’s dreams…


I read about 50% of Black Widow: Forever Red until I realized I was really disinterested in the story and my only motivation to continue was so I would be able to write a full review of the book. I generally dislike writing DNF reviews myself (though I have no issue with others writing them). but ultimately I believe that “This book was so disengaging that I couldn’t finish it” is a fair review.  Here are some of my thoughts about the novel.

  1. Although Black Widow is the titular character, she’s actually secondary in the novel.  The real protagonist is teenager Ava, who ends up interacting with Black Widow.  I think this is a case of the author (and other minds behind the novel) taking the idea that a YA novel must feature a teen protagonist very, very seriously.  Generally speaking, this is true. However, I think there’s a lot of evidence that teen readers would read a novel about Black Widow whether she was a teen or not, and I would have loved to see that happen. As it is, calling this a Black Widow novel is a bit misleading.
  2. The writing is awkward and sometimes cliche. There’s something difficult about transferring superheroes to novels, I think. They’re larger than life, and what readers accept in a comic or what viewers appreciate in a movie can come across as a little cheesy in novel  form.  The author certainly has YA writing experience, and that’s evident from the prose and general structure of the book, but the mix of YA and superhero was at times not a good fit for me.
  3. The characters were almost right but not quite. A lot of the dialogue for fan favorites like Natasha, Stark, and Coulson was spot on. Stohl does a decent job of channeling their voices and personalities.  Sometimes, however, the characters were a little off. I felt the same way I feel when I see a favorite cartoon get a reboot or sequel and the original voice actors have been replaced.  The new actors are close to the original ones, but the whole time I’m watching I’m being driver mad by the sense everything is just slightly off.
  4. The interchapters seemed unnecessary.  In between the main chapters about Ava and her love interest, Stohl inserts transcripts of a hearing that was held after the completion of the plot. I wasn’t sure what these added to the book, beyond the fact that early on, they are the only way readers get to see Black Widow in the novel.  However, most of them aren’t really informative (because Stohl doesn’t actually want to tell you what happens in the book before you finish reading it), so it’s just like having someone tell you they know a secret but they’re not actually going to say what it is. It seems like a waste of time.
  5. The plot is slow, and Ava doesn’t redeem it for me. I read nearly half the book, and it seemed as if practically nothing had happened in all those pages.  I might be okay with this except 1) people tend to expect action from superhero stories and 2) I didn’t like Ava, so getting to know her wasn’t fun for me.  Ava is fairly whiny and, in my opinion, thinks Black Widow owes her far more than she actually does.  She’s had some traumatizing things happen to her, so I can’t blame her for being bitter, but she seems bitter towards all the wrong people. It’s not endearing.

I wanted to love this, but it’s the only book of 2016 I have decided to DNF. I don’t think I’ll be checking out anything else Marvel releases in this vein.



13 thoughts on “Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (DNF Review)

  1. Diana says:

    Sorry this one didn’t work out for you. I haven’t read but I guess I would struggle with number 5 too.I just like narratives that move at a well balanced pace or fast enough. I hope that you will enjoy your next read though.


    • Briana says:

      I get going and going because I thought I should give it more a chance, and then I realized I was halfway through and barely anything had happened at all! It’s possible all the action is crammed in at the end, but I shall never know. :p


  2. uptilmidnight says:

    I’m glad I passed on this. I have seen similar reviews like this. I’m still hopeful for the other superhero stories coming out. I hope they don’t disappoint!


    • Briana says:

      I hadn’t seen any reviews after I read it, but people do seem on the fence about it. I’m not sure that it would be a horrible idea for a story in general (barring the issues with slow pacing), but I think it’s not what people are going to expect from something marketed as a Black Widow novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. TeacherofYA says:

    Sometimes you just gotta DNF it, though it has only happened to me a couple times. Usually if it’s decent but I’m not into it at the moment, I put it back on my Want to Read list. The one I could not finish at all was Murakami’s 1Q84, because it was 900+ pages and it was incredibly slow. (Others will hate me for saying anything negative about his work: I’ve been told it’s probably “too advanced” for me…in which I basically replied with a couple expletives.
    It doesn’t sound like something I would want to read after your review. 🙌


    • Briana says:

      I love how “It must be that you’re just not intelligent enough to comprehend its genius” comes up for a defense of just about everything. It’s especially weird when people pull it for YA books. Yeah…I’m too stupid to understand a book written for people who haven’t even graduated high school. Ok. But, these people don’t even know anything about you. Maybe you have a PhD in literature! They don’t know! The fact is that people just have different tastes. There’s no book that everyone in the world will like, even if they recognize it has good elements.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TeacherofYA says:

        Oh, she was so condescending about it. She said, “His work is some of the best ever. You probably just didn’t understand it. I can show you some books that will help you ‘work up’ to him.” I was like, “excuse me? You don’t even know me!”
        I left that B & N shaking my head in frustration. Luckily I didn’t have anything to buy that day, or else she would have rung me up, and I would’ve had to throttle her. 😇

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Lunch-Time Librarian says:

    I’ve seen these Marvel books pop up, and I admit that I was skeptical about them when they were first announced. I think I assumed they would all be original stories of the characters when they were teenagers, so it’s strange to see that Black Widow went this strange additional character route. It’s hard to translate a comic and movie into a book if you aren’t the original comic book author. It was a cool idea, but it’s too bad that it didn’t seem to work in practice.


    • Briana says:

      I also assumed that, if they were insistent on the tenant that the protagonist of a teen novel must be a teen, that it would feature Black Widow as a teen. Not a random secondary character. Even if the rest of the novel were great, this book faces a huge problem in that most of the audience is probably going to be surprised and disappointed that Natasha isn’t actually the protagonist, and that’s hard to overcome.

      Liked by 1 person

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