City of Villains Book Review and Author Interview!

We’re a sucker for mystery stories and those with a Disney theme? Even better! We devoured City of Villains while on vacation today we are happy to be sharing a City of Villains book review and interview with author Estelle Laure!

Disney Books generously sent us an ARC to review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.


Mary Elizabeth Heart is a high school senior by day, but by night she’s an intern at the Monarch City police department. She watches with envy from behind a desk as detectives come and go, trying to contain the city’s growing crime rate. For years, tension has simmered between the city’s wealthy elite, and their plans to gentrify the decaying neighborhood called the Scar-once upon a time the epicenter of all things magic.

When the daughter of one of the city’s most powerful businessmen goes missing, Mary Elizabeth is thrilled when the Chief actually puts her on the case. But what begins as one missing person’s report soon multiplies, leading her down the rabbit hole of a city in turmoil. There she finds a girl with horns, a boyfriend with secrets, and what seems to be a sea monster lurking in a poison lake. As the mystery circles closer to home, Mary finds herself caught in the fight between those who once had magic, and those who will do anything to bring it back. This dark and edgy YA series explores the reimagined origins of Maleficent, Ursula, Captain Hook, and other infamous Disney Villains like you’ve never seen before.


There are plenty of books that reimagine Disney villains but here’s the difference in City of Villains– they are all teenagers. Protagonist Mary Elizabeth isn’t just an ordinary teenager, she is Legacy (family who descended from magic) and she interns at the local police department. Her investigation into a missing fellow high schooler gets dark and gritty quickly. There is an underlying sense of tension as Mary Elizabeth tries to find a missing teenager named Mally and navigate a very intense relationship with her magically inclined boyfriend James.

City of Villains takes on some modern issues that frankly, I wasn’t expecting. One main theme that is reoccurring throughout the novel is the effects of gentrification on young adults. The neighborhood deemed The Scar which was once the epicenter of magic, is now devoid of it and the Narrows (non-magic families) are trying to take over the community with gaudy malls and coffee shops. The spread of gentrification plus the lack of magic in the community has everyone especially the teens in the area struggling.

The Legacy teenagers long for the old days when magic enhanced their neighborhoods and made them feel safe. After the Fall (disappearance of magic) the Legacy characters struggle to find their sense of purpose amidst the violence and uncertainty of an escalating social war with the Narrows.

So many portions of this book reminded me of the struggles we are facing today. The wealthy Narrows mirror the wealthy 1% in this country. The anger and disgust of those who aren’t consumed with capitalism is relatable. I could go on but I literally had to stop and take a breath when one character sneers that they are making The Scar “great again.” I won’t share more since it veers into spoiler status but make sure you read it especially if you are fans of Ursula and Maleficent!

One note, this is definitely a YA book for readers aged 14 and up. Some violence, cussing, and references to murder are included.

Interview with Author Estelle Laure

Hi Ms. Laure and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions!  I devoured your novel City of Villains and really enjoyed this modern world with classic Disney baddies.  The beauty of origin stories is that you can create an entire world and plot from scratch! Can you tell me how you decided on what villains to include? 

Thank you so much for having me and for your kind words! I really wanted to have at least two villains (that we know of so far) that felt like they would make interesting studies as teens. I love Ursula’s bombastic mischievousness in opposition to Maleficent’s coldness. I love shows like Gossip Girl and so naturally wanted those different social dynamics and personalities. Also, when thinking in terms of love interests, Hook felt natural, although he wasn’t Hook right away. That was a piece of genius from my editor, because once we knew he was Hook the rest of his behaviors all fell into place. After all, he’s sort of a gang leader who naturally lends himself to being a character on the edge of criminal activity but also a kind of loyalty. There are honestly so many good ones to choose from you may see more in the sequels. NEVER ENOUGH VILLAINS!

City of Villains really surprised me with all the wonderful detail of Monarch City and the commentary on gentrification.  Is Monarch City based on any particular US city? 

The Scar itself is based on the Village in NYC. I spent a lot of time there, especially on Christopher Street, and was always taken by the neighborhood, stores, and what feels like a really magical aesthetic. The Scar has obviously seen better days and reflects that, but I still sort of think if there was going to be magic somewhere, it would be there. The rest of it built on itself. It’s definitely an alternate reality and I wanted to absolve myself of any need to adhere to facts about our world. I will never forget the morning I woke up with the Ever Garden in my head. Miracle Lake, too. Now that’s magic. 

The main character Mary Elizabeth has a very intense relationship with her boyfriend James.  It creates major conflict within her investigation of her missing schoolmates.  Was the plan always to have the end of the novel be a major turning point in their romance? 

Yes! I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the fact that Mary Elizabeth is caught smack in between wanting to be an upright citizen and help her neighborhood while also being a person with fierce loyalty to her friends, boyfriend, and the underbelly culture of The Scar made it so there had to be a tipping point where she would decide which side to stand on. That’s her main conflict in book one.  Because this is a trilogy there’s a long game plan here, but it may not go the way you think. 🙂

I loved the cover for City of Villains, it feels very noir and looks almost like a comic.  Can you share why you decided to go that route?

Overall we wanted to make it clear that this would be a departure for Disney into more grit and darkness and that it would be a series that could appeal to readers who are drawn to books like that: lovers of true crime, of mysteries, comics…that sort of thing. I LOVE how it turned out, with Monarch looking modern but always the sense that the evil is lurking behind. 

What’s next for you and most importantly, will we get a sequel? 

YES to the sequel! I’m just finishing up book two and book three will be right behind it. I honestly wish I could stay in this world forever. It’s been so much fun constructing and imagining I’m grateful to have two more years with it! My next non-Disney YA project is called REMEMBER ME, coming out with Wednesday Books in Fall 2021. 

Thanks again for inviting me! I’m so glad you loved the book!

About the Author

Estelle Laure is the author of This Raging Light and But Then I Came Back, YA books about love and family and the afterlife and siblings and head injuries (not in any particular order). She is pretty seriously obsessed with the 80s and serial killers and magic, all things that scare and fascinate her. If she wasn’t a writer, she probably would have been a forensic psychologist, or Clarice Starling, or possibly a nurse in an asylum in 1947. Estelle currently lives in her hometown of Taos, New Mexico.

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