Book Review: “Evil Thing” by Serena Valentino

Serena Valentino’s six-part Disney Villains book series seemingly came to an end last summer when The Odd Sisters closed the chapter on the witch sisters that played a role in the lives of some of the greatest Disney villains of all time. Taking place centuries later, Evil Thing reads more like a standalone story, one that any reader could pick up without any knowledge of the previous books. Taking a queue from Gregory Maguire, Evil Thing puts a Wicked spin on the story of Cruella De Vil.

Fans of 101 Dalmatians who paid close attention may recall Roger mentioning that Cruella is Anita’s “Dear old schoolmate,” despite the character looking decades older than Anita. In the De Vil woman’s own words, readers will get to know about her upbringing, her friendship with Anita, how she became manic for fur coats, and the story of her rapid aging. By the end of the novel, Cruella’s need to make a Dalmatian puppy coat feels more personal, but never redeeming.

The titles of the previous villain-based stories were easily identifiable. Fairest of All is obviously related to the Evil Queen and you can’t mistake Poor Unfortunate Soul with anyone but Ursula. Evil Thing, on the other hand, doesn’t instantly call Cruella De Vil to mind. The title comes from the song “Cruella De Vil,” but not one of the most iconic lines. “Inhuman Beast” probably would’ve stuck out more, but this title comes from the middle of a phrase: “If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.” Like the past books in the series, the dust jacket features Cruella’s face, but the hardcover beneath shows a more manic version of her with spinning circles in her eyes from the scene where she’s chasing the truck full of puppies down with her car.

One of the things that bothered me about Cruella De Vil’s portrayal on the ABC series Once Upon a Time was the addition of magic to her story. One of the reasons she stands out against all the Disney Villains is that she didn’t need magic to be despicable. I applaud Serena Valentino’s restraint with going down the same path, but she couldn’t resists adding the suggestion that some form of magic is at least partially to blame for the woman she became. And while Lucinda, Ruby, and Martha are nowhere to be found in this story, which takes place centuries later from the previous stories, Cruella and Anita are fans of fairytale stories and Evil Thing has an obnoxious number of references to Princess Tulip. But it never tries to set up her love of the stories of King Arthur, which would’ve been the logical story for her to romanticize here as she compares Roger to “Sir Galahad” in the animated feature (which is recapped by the end of the book). It’s the one reference that readers starting here will be confused by.

Evil Thing is the best book in Serena Valentino’s villain series because it more or less allows Cruella De Vil to become the villain we know and love without turning her into a puppet for three annoying witches. It’s not perfect, but diehard Disney Villains fans will appreciate a deeper dive into how she would have grown up to be who she was. However, with a new film origin story in the works starring Emma Stone, all memory of Evil Thing will likely be obliterated by that feature.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).