The title Assistant to the Villain drew me in while I browsed Barnes and Noble’s website. Then when I read the synopsis of Hannah Nicole Maehrer’s novel I grew more interested. If done well, this idea of a misfit finding employment as the assistant to a villain is one I would be interested in. So I dug in and enjoyed this awkward and amusing tale of Evie Sage. Here are my thoughts on this novel presented in the ever-so-important critique form.


This story starts in the Prologue with Evie Sage strolling the Hickory Forest after failing to get a job at the town’s job fair. She comes across a river and splashes water on her face and realizes the river is red. She follows the river upstream until she comes across the Villain, a mythologized baddie in the kingdom of Rennedawn. After a bit of sarcasm thrown back and forth between the two of them, Evie and the Villain run/stumble away from the Valiant Guards that are chasing him. In their conversation, Evie manages to get herself a job offer from the Villain due to her detached “charm”. They return to his “evil lair” known as Massacre Manor where Evie will start her new job.

We jump forward 5 months to Evie starting her day at work with severed heads dangling from the ceiling. She goes about her day keeping all the workers for the Villain in order and occasionally having intimate thoughts about her employer. We quickly learn that she has a personality conflict with another prominent woman, Rebecka (Becky), who runs the office with a strict hand. There are interns, office gossip, and other things you might expect in a modern office rom-com.

Evie is friends with Tatianna (Tati), the resident healer who dresses completely in pink, and Blade, the dragon trainer who lied on his application by saying he was skilled in training magical beasts. The Villain keeps a companion frog named Kingsley who holds up signs periodically that have one-word phrases that warn or counsel Evie as she tries to navigate the oddities of her new job and the budding romance with her boss.

Evie is adept at her job even though she feels out of place at times. We quickly learn that the efforts of the Villain to cause mayhem for King Benedict have started to run up against obstacles. A shipment of goods that was meant to be stolen is kept out of the hands of the Villain. Few know of this theft attempt other than the Villain’s forces executing the theft and Evie the organizer. Somehow the King has started to figure out how to stop the Villain.

Then on a day when the Villain isn’t in the manor, a bomb is placed in his office. Evie finds it and tries to dispose of it but can’t think of a good way to do this. She ends up on the balcony trying to throw it over the side of the manor when her foot gets trapped. The Villain shows up just in time to save her from the explosion. He takes her home, and Evie grows more infatuated with him.

After she returns, she is instructed to find the mole. Evie has her suspicions and conducts the search. All of the guards and Evie are bound by magic ink to the Villain and unable to act against him. As the search progresses, the Villain and Evie look into the materials needed to make the bomb, which leads them to the Villain’s brother. He made the clock timing for the bomb. This revelation about the Villain’s previous life stuns Evie and she begins to grow curious about his past life before he became the Villain. She also learns his name, Trystan.

The search may have ended when Evie finds a letter in Blade’s room regarding an application for employment to King Benedict. This is diffused quickly with Blade pleading for her to let him tell the boss about how he got the dragon in the first place. The short story is he stole it and wanted to learn to become a magical beast trainer. He came to the Villain to get the dragon away from the King.

This letter ends up coming to light later when Becky finds it on Evie’s desk. The Villain is furious and tension between him and Evie forces her to quit. The Villain knows she couldn’t have betrayed him because of the spell, but it takes time for him to realize just how hectic his manor is without Evie as his assistant. She comes around and apologizes for leaving, even though both she and the Villain know she wasn’t at fault. Blade mans up and tells the Villain but is spared so long as no other secrets force the Villain to kill him.

Around this time it is revealed that the collar around the dragon has the mark of the King inside it and this leads them to Evie’s last employer, Mr. Warsen, a blacksmith in her village. He assaulted Evie and wounded her with a magic dagger when she worked for him. That mark still causes her pain when she is near the dagger. The interaction with the blacksmith doesn’t go well and Evie asks for the Villain to dispose of him without killing him. The Villain agrees and he is dealt with in some shadowy way.

The search for the mole also leads the Villain and Evie to the Villain’s sister Clare, who is the ex-lover of Tati. She makes magical ink, the same ink seen on the fingers of the person who bought the clockwork mechanism from Trystan’s brother. This ink is also used by the Villain to bind his most loyal to him. This ink has also been sold to a Valiant Guardsman, which furthers the conflict that the Villain and Clare have.

After the search has stalled, the Villain gives the staff a day off to search the manor. The night before, Evie, Blade, and Becky wind up going to a party hosted by a core healer (Trystan’s father). The three of them find letters and instead of taking them to the Villain, they investigate themselves. Evie is surprised when the Villain shows up and feels ashamed to have gone, especially when she learns that the core healer is his father. She runs away and the Villain chases her. The relationship begins to climax as the two of them spend time alone until the party is attacked. Valiant Guard comes charging in after one of the magical beasts the Villain has taken away from the king escapes the manor and spews acid all over the party.

The Villain is hurt in the fight against the magical beast and doesn’t know the Valiant Guard has them captured. When he wakes up, Evie uses a story of infertility with the Villain to protect Trystan’s true identity. This leads to her kissing the Villain, which he believes is a dream and participates in a little too much. They learn that Trystan’s father is suspected of being the Villain and has been taken captive. Trystan goes after him to try and save him while Evie and the others return to the manor to be healed.

Suspicion floats around a bit more before the mystery of who is the mole is solved. [You can read the book to find out who.] After Evie escapes the climax and moves in with the Villain permanently, she wants to return home once more to retrieve something she left. The King takes the Villain captive and the true brutality of his benevolent rule is made visible when he lets Mr. Warsen have his way with Evie so long as the king gets her body when he is done. She manages to escape with the aid of one of the Valiant Guards and takes the mantle of Assistant to the Villain, in toto. She will retrieve him from the King and do so with a level of brutality on par with Trystan’s.

What Worked

I think a lot of this novel works. Hannah has shown skill with handling a mystery and subplot elements related to the romance. The identity of the mole is a classic mystery reveal that takes nearly 80% of the novel to have all the clues revealed. And yet, the most important clues are given early on.

But the way she layers in the meaning of the gold ink used to bind Evie is truly satisfying. She has been bound with gold and not green. The green will poison the servants of the Villain if they betray him. And we learn this on page 55/56. It is clear that she doesn’t quite have this magic binding but we don’t know the real effect. It is touched on again on page 93, as a reminder that this is important. Then we get on page 120 that the gold was a special gift to Trystan from his sister. Our suspicions that she can’t betray the Villain are confirmed on page 130 and this might make us think that the gold is only special in value. It is touched on again on page 239 when Evie wishes the Villain could hear her while looking at the gold band, and then the reveal comes on page 300. The gold allows the Villain to feel what Evie feels when she is in distress. This magical gold ink is woven into the story expertly and is a great way to keep a subtle yet important plot element alive in the background.

I also think that the prose flows well and the narrator doesn’t insert herself into the novel in any overt ways. This allows us to keep a close psychic distance in the third-person point of view to both Evie and Trystan as the chapters trade-off.

Most of the humor lands well if you appreciate snark and sarcasm. The few times the humor wasn’t quite funny but awkward were true to Evie’s character and worth keeping in.

What Didn’t Work

Even though I enjoyed this novel, there were a few things that I think could be improved.

The biggest of these is the technology of the world. It is unclear to me how advanced this world is. Most of it feels Medieval or Renaissance, but then we get a watch on page 106, ventilation ducts in the manor, running water, a reference to night lights, and an understanding of what Human Resources is. These oddities made it hard to pin down just how advanced we are supposed to think this world is. I think many of these are kept in for a more humorous novel, but they felt a little jarring as sudden things we are supposed to accept about this world.

The rest of my didn’t works are more minor. On page 9 we learn that Evie doesn’t like to run, except in two key moments she runs, and quickly at that. She tackles someone in one scene and escapes the Villain in another. The Villain is likely to be more fit and so this strikes me as untrue.

The word “rot” is likely used incorrectly. Normally I wouldn’t bring it up, except that I think this is a good place to explain the difference. It only appears two or three times around page 256, but the acid from the magical beast is eating away at the flesh of partygoers and we get this, “…the putrid smell of rotting flesh permeated the air.” This is minutes after the animal attacks. Meat and flesh take time to rot because rot is the result of bacteria or fungi. Evie is likely to know this to some level given her profession. Because this idea of the smell of melting flesh is due to the acid of the magical creature, decay or dissolving might be more apt words. Or perhaps the smell of bowels and the digestive tract are causing the smell.

I am going to make one last point here and then walk it back. I am not sure the Prologue needs to be a prologue. It could be Chapter 1. The best prologues are almost like separate and important thoughts that you need to know to understand the story but shouldn’t hang onto as we follow the protagonist. This Prologue doesn’t do that. It is only separated from what is Chapter 1 by a few months. The main reason to skip over that time is because we don’t want the exposition before the inciting incident to be Evie’s unemployability, but instead the work for the Villain before she falls in love with him. However, how she ended up working for the Villain is interesting and worth exploring. Thus, we get the Prologue and then Chapter 1 as it is in the novel. But I am unsatisfied with this and yet understand the choice. I begrudgingly accept the Prologue.

Final Thoughts

Assistant to the Villain by Hannah Nicole Maehrer is well-written and shows a solid understanding of the romance and mystery genres. Hannah’s skill is most visible in how she handles the magic gold ink used to bind Evie to the Villain. This easily is my favorite craft element in this novel. How she layers it in keeps you aware of it but only in the background of the larger plot.

The things that could be made clearer don’t interfere with the story as a whole and lead me to believe this is a good example of how to weave fantasy, romance, and mystery together into a single story. It is well worth reading to understand how to construct a solid story.

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