Here in Margaret Stohl’s terrific second Black Widow novel, our favorite red-haired superspy was still suffering from a lingering existential crisis. Was the Black Widow a person? Was she a brand? Was she a secret weapon? The last hope of humanity? A lunch box? A Halloween costume?
Natasha Romanoff had known what she was before S.H.I.E.L.D. begat its Avengers Initiative. Back then her life followed a clear linear path. She was a Russian, an orphan, a widow, a spy, a killer, a defector, an American, and a weapon.
But after saving humanity numerous times, the mighty Avengers had become celebrities. For Natasha, who had been trained for the secrecy of black ops and stealth fighters, the whole thing was untenable. For one thing, she wasn’t comfortable in the public’s eye. And for another, it was hard to pull off covert ops when your face was on billboards and cereal boxes.
These issues combined with shocking revelations from Stohl’s first book (Black Widow: Forever Red) put Natasha in a tailspin. Her fate – and her future – was just a tragic web spun by the deadliest of friends and the deadliest of assassins. From the Red Room’s Black Widow program, to S.H.I.E.L.D., to the Avengers, she was never truly in control of her own destiny.
One thing she could count on, however, was the infrastructure of violence – the bomb maker’s workshop, the terrorist’s hideout, the sniper’s abandoned rifle. These were things that she couldn’t escape. They were her job and her life. “Death and destruction. Loss and pain. That’s what my dreams are made of,” she tells Phil Coulson at one point.
Stohl has written another fractured spy thriller with a big chunk of buried Black Widow backstory. Despite being a decorated superhero, Natasha still couldn’t escape her formative years enrolled in Russia’s secret spy school. Pain was power, she told herself every day. Keeping her wounds fresh was the only way she knew how to be the Black Widow.
With a little help from her friends Carol Danvers, Tony Stark, and the Red Widow (no spoilers from us!), Natasha shuts down a nuclear threat and a chemical-weapons attack in Manhattan. As always, the Black Widow was able to complete her mission impossible.
But the novel doesn’t have a happy ending. Author Stohl is on the hook for a third Black Widow volume, and that means Natasha Romanoff, Avenger, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, hero of the people, woman of steel and stone, will have to face her demons one more time. “I’m Russian,” she says with a shrug. “Taking a punch is in my DNA.”
[Black Widow: Red Vengeance / By Margaret Stohl / First Printing: October 2016 / ISBN: 9781484773475]