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23358109 I received this e-Arc from NetGalley and Disney Book Group/Marvel Press, in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: October 13th, 2015

Synopsis: 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…

At fifty-years-old, I’m still a comic book geek at heart, so when I first heard that this book was in the works last year I was a little excited.

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Naturally, when it appeared on NetGalley I immediately requested it, and when I was approved, I want you all to know I was the epitome of calm, cool, and collected, and never reacted like this: 

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Or this:

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Or even this:

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No. I’ve been patiently waiting to read and review this until it was a little closer to the release date. I started reading about 3:00 yesterday afternoon, and after a few unwelcome interruptions like my husband requesting supper, and me not being able to resist watching the premiere of Scream Queens, I finally finished about 2:30 this morning. So, was it everything I hoped for? For the most part I give a resounding “Yes!”

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Margaret Stohl does an excellent job capturing the essence of Natasha Romanoff, aka, Black Widow. I’ve always had a sort of love/hate thing going with this character. On the one hand she’s an awesome, kick-ass heroine who takes no prisoners, yet at times, she also comes across as being cold and remote, which makes her a little bit unlikable. Stohl keeps all her strengths while also delving into her traumatic past, which makes for a much more sympathetic character that readers can relate to. For me, Black Widow actually winds up taking over the story. I’m not sure if this was Stohl’s intention, but I wound up impatiently skimming through the sections with Ava and Alex, so I could get back to Natasha.

That’s not to say that Ava and Alex weren’t interesting. They each came with an intriguing backstory. Ava with her ties to Black Widow, and the Red Room, is a sympathetic and appealing character who gives an imaginative spin to that particular mythology arc. And Alex, although he started out as rather a bland personality, quickly evolved into something much more than just the romantic love interest of Ava’s. Their relationship is definitely a case of the dreaded and predictable insta-love, but there’s so much action going on that it never really got to the point of being annoying.

Rounding out the characters are Agent Coulson,

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and Tony Stark.

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Although they’re strictly there as supporting characters and only make brief appearances, once again Stohl does a wonderful job capturing their personalities. Tony Stark, with his suave, devil-may-care attitude, and Coulson’s dry sense of humor literally leap off the page. I honestly felt as though I was watching an Avenger’s movie, or ABC’ s Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.!

The villain, Ivan Somodorov was your typical over-the-top Marvel nemesis, but I’ve found this to be the same case with evil-doers in the comics, films, and tv series. I’ve always gotten the sense that far less time is spent on developing their characters, but for a few exceptions like The Flash’s Eobard Thawn, aka, Reverse Flash. This is just my humble opinion mind you.

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The plot itself is fast-paced, and the action never lets up. The fight scenes are particularly spectacular, and I found myself wincing in sympathy during several of them. This is definitely classic spy stuff with plenty of high-tech gadgetry, disguises, and chase scenes. I also loved the inclusion of Russian words and phrases which pepper the story. They’re beautifully written in, and were a continual reminder that many of the characters have ties to Russia. 

Overall I found Black Widow: Forever Red to be a thrilling and imaginative start to a new series. While staying true to Black Widow’s origin story, there’s plenty of new twists and turns to entice fans, as well as attract readers not familiar with the Marvel universe. As of yet, I haven’t heard of a reaction from Stan Lee, but I can’t imagine he won’t be pleased with this latest interpretation of his creations. While technically a YA book, there’s plenty here to appeal to adult readers. I’m highly anticipating the next book! For right now though, after that late night reading session, I’m going to take a nap.

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