Disney princesses are all fine and dandy, but it’s the villains — with their killer songs and fabulous theatricality — who are the real stars. If you found yourself wishing Maleficent or Ursula or the Queen of Hearts had a cooler backstory to go along with their iconic aesthetics, then the upcoming book trilogy reimagining the Disney villains in a modern crime thriller might be a dream come true.
The first book, City of Villains, introduces the Scar, a rundown neighborhood of a once vibrant city, where magic has disappeared from the world. City of Villains follows Mary Elizabeth Heart (the Queen of Hearts) who starts to investigate the disappearances of teenagers. She’s not the only Disney character who gets a reimagining — Belle, Ursula, Maleficent, and Captain Hook all get their due, and that’s just the tip of the villain iceberg.
In an exclusive Q & A conducted by Disney publishing, author Estelle Laure describes more of world of the trilogy.
Disney: In a few sentences, introduce City of Villains for us.
Estelle Laure: City of Villains is the first of a trilogy that follows Mary Elizabeth Heart, (sort of) regular teen by day and detective intern by night. Magic has been dead a while, but when teenagers start disappearing and Mary suspects magic is somehow involved and then her boyfriend starts acting weird, Mary is launched into an underground world where not only is magic not dead, it’s totally out of control.
Tell us a little background about the main character Mary Elizabeth Heart.
Mary Elizabeth Heart’s parents and sister were murdered just after magic died, and she’s been living with her aunt Gia ever since. Most Legacy families, meaning people whose families were magical, live in the Scar which was once the center of magical industry and is now a rundown shell of what it once was. As a result of everything she’s lost, Mary fashions a life for herself with her boyfriend James and his friends who are always right at the edge of criminal behavior, her best friend Ursula who loves to trade favors for secrets, and the people who hang out at the local underage club, Wonderland. Mary is street smart and very torn about which direction to take her life. She’s just not quite sure if her dream of being a detective on the murder squad will work alongside her friends and the Scar and she doesn’t know where she’ll land.
There’s a lot of familiar character names in this book right off the bat; introduce some of the main players that readers will get to know in this story.
So many good ones! Mary gets paired to work the case with know-it-all Bella who thinks you can get everything you need from a book. Her boyfriend is James Bartholomew, often called Captain Crook by those who dislike him. He likes to take money off people for pool and is always on the hunt to get magic back where it belongs (with him). Ursula is Mary’s bombastic bestie. She really just wants to party and know everything about everyone. You never know when she’ll need it. Oh, and then there’s Mally Saint, the coldest girl in school. She’s been known to bleach a lawn here and there, leave roadkill on a doorstep or two, and when Flora and Fauna decided to exclude her from their party last year…well that did not go over well. There are others coming in subsequent books but those are the main players in book one.
Tell us about the neighborhood of the Scar.
The Scar is a run-down neighborhood in the southern part of Monarch City, a huge metropolis. It used to be the best place to be: best clubs, best fashion, best food. It also used to be where you’d go to see a fairy godmother or get a prediction from a wizard, not to mention the most stylish glass slippers around. But ever since magic mysteriously disappeared when Mary and her friends were little, the whole place has fallen apart. Now there are different organizations and factions that are ripping the town apart. The Amagicalists think magic should stay gone, that it was always a scourge and that it’s gone for good and people should just attend meetings until they can get over it; the Naturalists think magic is underground somewhere, that it left because it was being misused and they’re always trying to bring it back; and the Magicalists think magic is coming back any day now to empower its rightful masters in the Scar. Meanwhile as they rip each other apart, businessmen from the Narrows uptown are slowly buying up all the property, taking over Scar politics, and infiltrating Scar culture, which has always been insular. But it’s not all politics. There’s also a poisonous lake in the middle of town and a magical garden where the very last of the original magic lives.
This book is definitely a darker reimagining than readers might be expecting; why will this story resonate with Young Adult readers?
First of all, it’s so much fun to see all the characters they grew up with being teenagers themselves, dealing with all the things people have to deal with as they’re becoming adults. There’s some good romance in there too, which is good, though it doesn’t necessarily play out the way Disney romances usually do. Also, thematically it’s really looking at the world and society and how you define your role in it. Also…MAGIC! All in all it’s just everything people love about Disney but gritted up YA style.
City of Villains hits shelves on Jan. 26 Check out a first excerpt below.
The world ended because of me.
Or at least that’s what I thought at first.
When I close my eyes and let myself remember the night of the Fall, it’s like the ground rushes at me; it still feels like cresting the highest part of a roller coaster, then dropping down from an impossible height. Except I never got off. I can still feel myself whizzing up and down at dizzying speeds, never quite getting my feet right.
Actually, maybe I strapped into that roller coaster the day my parents and sister were murdered. Sometimes it’s hard to say.
What I do know is the night the Wand—that gleaming new building, the supposed crown jewel of the Scar, the symbol of its rebirth—came tumbling down eleven years after magic died, everything changed.
Let me explain: I was fifteen.
James and I were hiding from Aunt Gia on the fire escape because she constantly thought we were kissing when we weren’t. We had barely gotten used to being more than friends, were just trying it on for size.
But even though Aunt Gia could be easy about some things, James and me being out of her sight wasn’t one of them.
No closed doors in this apartment, Mary Elizabeth. Leave the door open where I can see you. It’s James Bartholomew and he is who he is.
That only made me more defiant. She should have known, even then, I wouldn’t allow anyone to judge James for being a Bartholomew. James and I belonged to each other. To her, James and me loving each other so fiercely seemed dangerous. To us, after all we’d lost, it was an invitation to live, and we were answering it with a yes every second we spent together.
That night, James leaned toward me for the first time, and just as our lips met, a blue light shone so bright it blinded us and canceled out everything else. For just a second I thought we caused it.
First there was a loud grinding noise as if the Wand were a tree being ripped from the ground by its roots, then a flash of blue so bright I saw dots for hours, and then the Wand was gone. Gone. James and I had a front-row seat for the Apocalypse, and it turned out to take all of thirty seconds.
The one-hundred-sixty-story building disappeared on the night of its grand opening, with more than three thousand people inside. The elite of Monarch City just vanished, leaving not one trace of rubble or any kind of destruction behind. That happened.
Everything stopped working. Everything in the whole world paused.
James tightened his arms around me and pulled me back against the wall to protect me, but there wasn’t any need for that. Once the building disappeared, it was just quiet, the kind you don’t ever forget. Nothing moved. Not pigeons or cars or moths. Not even the air.
Aunt Gia flung open the window and made sure we were there and alive and didn’t even bother with scolding us for sneaking onto the fire escape, because she was so relieved not to have yet another family member perish unexpectedly. But once she had assessed us and found us with pulses, her face was like a pancake sliding off a plate. So then we all looked.
All that was left where the building had been was a crater as neat and precise as a surgical incision.
All around us, the citizens of the Scar totally freaked out. From the fire escape, James and I watched as people who had been hanging in the neighborhood—eating pizza, out for an evening stroll—ran down the street, screaming, waiting to be hit with pieces of building, because that’s what you would expect to happen when something that size falls. But not on this night.
This was just poof.
It took a while before they realized nothing was going to explode or burn and that all of Monarch wasn’t getting sucked into a sinkhole. Squad cars came and fire trucks came and ambulances came. And then they just sat there, lights flashing silently. Nothing to be done.
The news said it was a tragic anomaly. The chief and Mayor Triton made speeches, told everyone to keep calm.I guess we were lucky to be where we were, but it was right next door. We escaped it by a breath.
When the water filled the crater a few days later like blood pooling in a wound, Mayor Triton named it Miracle Lake because she had been running late to the grand opening and missed the Fall by just ten minutes. For her it was a miracle. For plenty of others, a disaster.
Funerals were held. Prayers were said. Vigils featuring votive candles abounded.
Then, when that phase of mourning was complete, things got tricky. The Magicalists were sure the Fall was a sign we should aggressively pursue bringing back magic at all costs. The Naturalists thought it was a sign that magic itself was somehow rejecting progress, if you could call it that, sending a message it didn’t want the Narrows invading the Scar and putting up all these fancy new buildings like the Wand on sacred magical ground. They believed the energies that ran beneath us were sending the Narrows a message and that if we could just do the right thing, magic would come back. The Amagicalists were sure this was a scientific phenomenon they were simply not yet able to explain, and that magic was dead and everyone needed to face the cold, hard
Monarch divided into factions, each more convinced of their rightness than the next. And they fought until their passion dwindled into a dull dislike, a kind of cold war. They were always fighting anyway, but now it was all over the news and on every street corner. People searched for deeper meaning and came up empty, waiting for magic to make its triumphant return.
The fairies did not return, wishes remained ungranted, and dreams died by the dozen with nothing and no one to usher them along.
What’s so hard to think about is what happened to all those people in the building that night. I sort of hope the people inside the Wand evaporated painlessly when it happened.
I mean, I hope that’s how it works.
In case it happens again.
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