Cold Hearted may have you feeling sorry for Lady Tremaine like you never thought possible.

Author Serena Valentino’s Disney Villains stories consistently shed new light on old characters in an entertaining, thought-provoking way. (For a full list of the books in the series and the appropriate order in which to read them, please see the below list at the bottom of this article.) I re-watched Disney’s Cinderella recently and was reminded just how terribly Lady Tremaine and the frightful Anastasia and Drizella treated Cinderella and thought I could not possibly ever side with, or at least feel compassion towards, Lady Tremaine.

But then along came Cold Hearted.

Cold Hearted is book 8 in the Valentino Disney Villains series and explores the pertinent parts of Lady Tremaine’s past before picking up where Disney’s Cinderella begins – Tremaine’s marriage to Cinderella’s father. However, it is not simply an origin story that leads us up to her role as infamously cruel stepmother. The tale shapes Lady Tremaine’s earlier experiences while also giving us her perspective on her introduction to Cinderella and life thereafter. While you may have seen life thereafter in the film, you have not seen it play out in this way. That is where Valentino weaves wonders by showing us the world through Lady Tremaine’s eyes.

That said, unlike book 7 (Evil Thing based on 101 Dalmations) which is told in Cruella De Vil’s voice, we experience Lady Tremaine’s perspective through third person. This storytelling style reverts to that which Valentino used in her earlier books. While I loved the wit and iconic phrases of first-person Cruella (daaarling!), Cold Hearted provided me with a warm and welcome return to the familiar and equally appealing style of earlier books in the series. Also unlike Evil Thing, readers revisit the Many Kingdoms (the primary magical realm in which much of the action happens in Valentino’s versions of her Disney Villain stories) and are reacquainted with the spooky Odd Sisters.

I enjoyed my return to the Many Kingdoms, and yet it was as if I were experiencing a whole new dimension. Herein lies the Many Kingdoms as you have not read about it before. “Enjoyed” perhaps may not be the right word, as I was thoroughly unsettled throughout this story – in every way that Valentino intends her readers to be. The Many Kingdoms is indeed the land of fairytales but the unrest between the witches and fairies, and the chaos-fueled existence of those meddling Odd Sisters is made evermore apparent in Tremaine’s tale.

Given these references to the Many Kingdoms and the Odd Sisters, I strongly recommend that readers read the earlier books in the series before reading Cold Hearted. While some explanation is given as to Valentino’s original characters and where they fit into the Disney classics, their richness and greater context is lost without having read the earlier books.

Ultimately, Lady Tremaine’s story is borne of heartache and loss which follows her throughout most of her life, but more than that, the human element – getting to know her through her tragedies and triumphs – left me wanting the best for her. The reader experiences the highs and lows of the story in tandem with its protagonist, so one always hopes things will get better. Despite this desire, there is hardly any bright side. I must of course remind you, dear reader, that things do not end well for Lady Tremaine. You already knew that, but the ending to Cold Hearted is more disturbing than you might imagine, and it simply must be read to be believed.

Again, “enjoyed” is not the right word. “Satisfactorily spooked” and “perpetually impressed with Valentino’s creative prowess” are far better descriptors. See for yourself when Cold Hearted is released on July 6th.

Author Serena Valentino has taken the world by storm with her New York Times best-selling Disney Villains novels published by Disney Publishing Worldwide. Not only do Valentino’s stories give readers the opportunity to explore villains they know and love, readers are also introduced to new characters that operate behind the scenes of classic Disney plots, giving tales-as-old-as-time a bewitching new twist.

The books in the series are as follows and are best enjoyed if read in this order:

1) Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen

2) The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince

3) Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch

4) Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy

5) Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch

6) The Odd Sisters: A Tale of the Three Witches

7) Evil Thing: A Tale of That De Vil Woman

8) Cold Hearted