Author Serena Valentino returns for her fourth venture into the world of Disney Villains with Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy, a twist on Maleficent's story. However, fans of the most wicked villain in all Disneydom should note that these books have a tremendous amount of carryover and need to be read in order, or readers will be very lost. To catch up, be sure to read Fairest of All, The Beast Within, and Poor Unfortunate Soul in that order.
While Maleficent graces both the jacket and inner cover of the book (she's a dragon underneath), the pages of this book devote a significant amount of pages, nearly half, to the Odd Sisters and their good sister Circe. At this point, I've grown tired of this trio, especially as each successive book has expanded their role. Overall, they've become an annoying takeaway from the main storyline and I was secretly hoping their apparent demise in the last book was final.
The story starts with Maleficent succeeding in getting Aurora to prick her finger and then contains a mix of flashbacks to provide the mistress of all evil's backstory as well as a recounting of the events that transpired between the fulfillment of her curse and the climax of Sleeping Beauty. More than any previous book in the series, this story crosses paths with several Disney animated films, including characters from Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Hercules. At times, it begins to feel like an elongated of Once Upon a Time (pre-reboot) and it often feels like too much is going on.
My biggest criticism of this book, besides the unwanted time spent on the Odd Sisters and their family, is that it fundamentally changes who you perceive Maleficent and Aurora to be and the relationship between them. Comparing this story to the 2014 film starring Angelina Jolie is inevitable, but I will boldly say that neither produces a satisfying standalone story of a character we all love to hate. The simple fact is that if you give Maleficent too big of a reason to enact her curse, she becomes too human and not as much fun. And as a character who is overly regal and dignified in her villainy, you never want to see her let her guard down. Both this book and that film break this cardinal rule of the character, thereby making her sympathetic yet unforgivable. At this point, may I just say, "LEAVE MALEFICENT ALONE!" Alas, a sequel to the film is inching closer to a shooting date... blargh!
Valentino's bio states that a fifth installment is being written for release next July and there are several hints throughout the book as to who could be the next subject of her story. My only hope is that the tiresome Odd Sisters finally enter retirement. I would much prefer a series about the Villains where they aren't all secretly being manipulated by a trio of witches who enjoy playing with others for sport.
It's been sad to watch the series get progressively worse with each story. I thought it started pretty strong and even the second novel was a worthy follow up, but ever since book three I've been underwhelmed. Unless the fifth book is able to get it back on track, I'm not looking forward to it. But for those who enjoyed the previous three installments, they will likely enjoy Mistress of All Evil just as much as Poor Unfortunate Soul.