Ladies and Gentlemen, Serena Valentino has done it again! She has taken a villain with an unforgiveable rap sheet, stealing puppies for example; made them human and forced the reader to empathise with them! It’s either genius or witchcraft.
Strictly speaking, this is the one villains’ tale which is not told by Serena but by Cruella herself. This is such a clever structural twist as it allows the time element of the book to keep shifting between the past and the present. It also allows Cruella to entertain us by dropping titbits of information regarding her eventual demise.
Cruella’s story begins with her as a privileged girl of 11, living in a grand house in Belgravia with her extravagant mother; a jovial but calm father and a league of servants.
It is clear from the outset that Cruella is a very shallow girl, stating that their house is “on the proper side” of Belgrave square and referring to servants as “non-people”. She believes love is shown through gifts: the more expensive the gift; the more the giver loves her. Even when her father buys her the perfect gift of “cursed” earrings straight from one of the adventures she loves to read about, Cruella doesn’t truly show gratification until she thinks that they cost a fortune.
Despite her entitled nature, Cruella is undeniably a girl capable of love. In truth, this is not a novel about puppies and dognapping as you may expect – but one of love.
Cruella’s capacity to love is clearly shown through her close friendship with Anita. Anita has not been raised with the fortune that her best friend has and has to work to gain a good education and prospects. She also possesses the rare ability to throw a spotlight on the good within Cruella.
Cruella is fiercely defensive of Anita whenever her social status is discussed. She shares everything with her friend, even her education. Cruella also freely admits to the reader that she never sees herself marrying: she just wants to travel the world, growing old with Anita.
Alas, not all love is as straightforward as that between Cruella and Anita. Cruella’s love for her mother does not seem to be reciprocated in my opinion. Cruella’s mother is fabulous, sociable and self-centered: she would rather show her love with gifts rather than spending time with her daughter and places the upmost importance on appearance. This is undeniably where Cruella gets her materialistic attitude from.
However, the absence of affection causes Cruella to try to emulate her mother- leading to dire consequences. In trying to please her mother, Cruella shuns her pet Dalmatian Perdita, isolates herself from those who love her and impoverishes herself both emotionally and, in the end, financially.
In fact, the whole puppy plot which we know so well is, in Cruella’s damaged mind, a sure-fire plan to gain her mother’s affection and approval. It is heartbreaking.
It wouldn’t be a villain’s tale without a nod to the Odd Sisters. Keen fans of the series will note that Cruella’s jade earrings have already featured in the Sisters’ journal and, as well as the constant reference to the “cursed” earrings, Cruella does note how different she feels whilst wearing them. I also liked how Anita and Cruella’s favourite book was the adventures of Tulip and Poppinjay- hopefully that means Serena has further plans for the couple.
Without giving too much away, Evil Thing is a testament as to how love and betrayal can shape a person. The two men who loved Cruella, and whom she truly loved in return, tragically leave her but only think of her happiness right up to the end. In contrast, her mother purely thinks of her own ambitions and is quite transparent in this behaviour considering the reader sees the world through Cruella’s eyes. Thus proving love really is blind.
It is clear to the reader that Cruella sought love in the wrong places and let vanity and vengeance take over. When the tale starts moving towards the iconic film we can see how the madness is starting to take hold: all she wants is for Anita to be alone and suffer as she does; for no other reason than the fact that Anita now has more than Cruella: she has love.
As with all of Serena Valentino’s novels, the ending of Evil Thing is genius. You won’t get any spoilers here but all I can say is …you won’t listen to Roger’s song the same way again!
“she oughta be locked up, and never released”