Review: Codename Villanelle (Killing Eve #1) by Luke Jennings

Villanelle (a codename, of course) is one of the world’s most skilled assassins. A catlike psychopath whose love for the creature comforts of her luxurious lifestyle is second only to her love of the game, she specializes in murdering the world’s richest and most powerful. But when she murders an influential Russian politician, she draws a relentless foe to her tail.

Eve Polastri (not a codename) is a former MI6 operative hired by the national security services for a singular task: to find and capture or kill the assassin responsible, and those who have aided her. Eve, whose quiet and otherwise unextraordinary life belies her quick wit and keen intellect, accepts the mission.

The ensuing chase will lead them on a trail around the world, intersecting with corrupt governments and powerful criminal organizations, all leading towards a final confrontation from which neither will emerge unscathed.

Codename Villanelle is a sleek, fast-paced international thriller from an exciting new voice in fiction.


What is Codename Villanelle about?

Codename Villanelle is primarily about an assassin, Villanelle, and her work for a secret organization called The Twelve. Much of the book is devoted to revealing her backstory as Oxsana, a young Russian woman imprisoned after brutally attacking several men. The Twelve trained Villanelle to be a ruthless and efficient assassin, and Villanelle enjoys her duties immensely. She gains a certain thrill from killing that she craves when she is not on assignment. Meanwhile in London, an MI6 agent named Eve Polastri is demoted following the death of a Russian man she initially deemed not in need of protection. Eve becomes obsessed with the female assassin she believes is responsible for several deaths across Europe, and begins to try and track down the killer–Villanelle.

Genre: Assassin/Spy Thriller

This book really hits a lot of the beats of a spy thriller but nobody is quite a spy.

Tropes: I am a sex hungry sociopathic woman…written by a man

Yeah I’m going to talk more about this in “The Bad” but Villanelle’s entire characterization is a mess and full of bad tropes.

Plot: …Is there one?

If there’s a plot it’s not a well rounded one. The entire novel consists of Villanelle getting off on murder and Eve deciding she exists and obsessing over her.

The Good

The best compliment I can pay this book is that the cover was redone after the Killing Eve TV show so at least Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are on it.

The Okay

I didn’t hate that much of the novel is spent on Villanelle. In the show Killing Eve, Eve takes the center stage for the majority of the first season in terms of exposition. We as the audience learn more about Villanelle as Eve does, having only witnessed her assassinations and some of her interactions with her handler. The book is very much the opposite with Villanelle’s entire backstory being revealed pretty much immediately. It was nice to have more information but also I think the show was smarter by having us actually care about Eve and then find out about Villanelle. The other way around makes Eve a rather boring character.

The Bad

Where to start, where to start…

You can fully tell that all of the female characters in this are written by a man. The whole thing reeks of “not like the other girls” energy which may work for an assassin but not for everybody. What made Villanelle in the TV show interesting was that she maintained a certain joy and vitality while also being a cold blooded and ruthless assassin. She forms unhealthy attachments, which was an interesting flaw for an assassin. In the novel, she’s just an emotionless sex hungry killing machine. Weirdly hypersexual in a way that can only be sexy to a man, and her attachment to Eve is nonexistent in this first book–unlike in the show, where that attachment is very important. Because in the show Villanelle is trying to get Eve’s attention, the premise of the cat and mouse chase works. In the novel, Villanelle has other shit to deal with and Eve isn’t even on her radar outside of a brief moment. Eve, on the other hand, goes absolutely wild over the idea of a potential female assassin and gets a little conspiracy theory about it with absolute zero evidence. It makes Eve seem naive, and also gives her an almost mean spirited energy when it comes to her relationships because she consistently puts Villanelle–whom she doesn’t even know for sure exists–first.

It should also be noted that while Eve and Villanelle have their flaws, they are cast as interesting characters and Villanelle at least has a compelling backstory. The rest of the female characters that dot the supporting cast are all exactly the same: pretty, low intelligence, driven by sex and ambition. And don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable the sex scenes are. Especially as a bisexual woman myself, reading Villanelle’s encounters with both men and women was the exact opposite of enjoyable.

Final Thoughts

If you, like me, watched Killing Eve and thought you couldn’t get enough of it then do yourself the favor of not picking up this book. It’s pretty clear to me that somebody did a thorough job of reinventing the story to be palatable for television, and all the good parts of this book are in the show and vastly improved upon. The bare bones idea is a good one: it’s absolutely interesting to read primarily from the perspectives of an assassin and an MI6 agent whose lives brush against one another. But the writing of the female characters is awful, we’re never given the chance to actually know and appreciate Eve’s character, the sex scenes are wildly uncomfortable, and the whole thing reeks of misogyny. Save yourself the trouble, don’t read this one.

By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

4 replies on “Review: Codename Villanelle (Killing Eve #1) by Luke Jennings”

I wasn’t sure whether to pick this up or not after loving the TV show. But it sounds like they took the best parts about the concept and drastically improved the execution, so maybe I should just steer clear, haha. Especially since my favourite thing about the show was how well the characters were written!

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