I saw a blurb somewhere describing All of Us Villains as ‘the Hunger Games with magic’; that’s accurate, but I think this one is more. The premise is that recently a book has leaked a lot of information about a local secret to the press: once a generation, the seven leading families in Ilvernath select a champion to compete in a tournament to decide who gets to control the scant magical resources for the upcoming generation. Basically the only way to win is to kill everyone else or at least be the last one standing. Once the tournament begins, it is sealed off until the Blood Moon passes and the Veil lifts (about 2 months, I think) or a winner emerges. A lot of dark family secrets are revealed, and a new generation of champions is now facing not only the tournament, but all the media attention that comes with the rest of the world finding out.
The book is told from the rotating perspectives of several of the champions, but not all seven. In some ways this works to provide different perspectives on related ideas like heroism, family honor, monstrosity, proving yourself, vengeance, etc. IT also really does give you a stake in your favorite characters too, since the psychology gets pretty believable by the end for everyone. Alistaire Lowes is from he most powerful family who wins most often, and he definitely initially presents like the monster he wonders if he is; Isobel Macaslan is the one whose family’s choice was first announced, and she has doubts about whether or not she wants to/can do this; Briony Thornburn has always wanted to be the family hero, but this might lead her into doing some pretty ugly things; and last but not least of our min narrators is Gavin Grieve, the one from the least respectable family who has a major chip on his should and has the most to prove. This is only 4 of the 7; the other 3 champions and families do not get to speak for themselves, and so those characters are considerably less developed. This is a big risk with the multiple POV set-up, and here it is a minor weakness because if a character has virtually no detail behind them, how are you supposed to care, and guess who probably dies first… This isn’t exactly spoilers because multiple character die or should die but then end up not quite dead or just back in action.
All of the main 4 gradually reveal their insecurities and fears, they reveal connections between themselves both in the past and the present, and they all turn out to be more complicated that they first appear. Everyone also has a key family member who is especially a part of their motivations to actually engage in the tournament, and this factors often into decision making, for better or worse. There are also two suspect side characters: one a mysterious government agent who gets involved, and the other a curse-maker who seems to be playing multiple sides with unclear motives.
The thing is that nearly all of them also believe that theirs is the only way, even when the possibility for breaking the curse the requires the tournament becomes more of an option. Naturally this causes things to be set in motion no one quite understands, ad by the end, when it becomes unclear who is on what side and who is allied with whom, there’s a bit of a cliff hanger for some. Ok, there’s a cliff-hanger of some kind for everyone, but some are more interesting than others. I know who I hope gets the right endings and who doesn’t; I’m less sure on who I want to be right/win. That’s one of the best things about this story, the characters are interesting and complex enough that it’s not immediately obvious how things are going to go in the already announced but not in detail sequel.