Just as in the very beginning, monstrosity, in both deed and being, is the subject of When Villains Rise, the conclusion to the darkly insightful yet humorous Market of Monsters series by Rebecca Schaeffer. Nita’s journey in Not Even Bones is set off by an act of compassion: when her mother brings home a living boy, Fabricio, to cut up and sell piece by piece, she helps him to escape. In return, she is sold out to the black market to have what was almost done to Fabricio (and what she’d been doing for years) be done to her. Her quest for revenge spans the trilogy, and along the way, she must contend with the monstrousness of her loved ones, her society, and most of all, herself.
I have to admit, after listening to the first two books on audio, actually reading the last in the trilogy has dulled my appreciation for the story in this form. Audiobooks have a cinematic quality to them, lending sensory immersion to texts which would otherwise have next to none. The Market of Monsters series would be a phenomenal TV show or movie, but I hesitate to class the style it’s written in as particularly engaging. That being said, Schaeffer has a knack for creating emotional tension and grossing me out in the best ways possible, so it’s likely that this is just a result of the inherent differences between audiobooks and ebooks.
Nonetheless, the inventiveness of the characters and the world are more than enough to draw many readers into Schaeffer’s world. Nita and Kovit’s struggle, be it for freedom or revenge, has been a captivating one. Nita herself has changed drastically from the first book to the last as she was forced to reckon with the world outside of her dissection room, and with people who weren’t already dead.
Befriending Kovit made her at once a better person and a better killer, which might seem to be diametrically opposing characteristics, but they remain true nonetheless. Even though the series takes place over what can’t be more than a few weeks, her growth is fully believable. Kovit’s development, while rather stagnant in the first two books, is a focal point of When Villains Rise, improving upon his characterization and leading to a satisfying conclusion for his story.
The diverse experiences of characters throughout the series must also be noted. Whether due to their ethnic background, species, or upbringing, each main character brings their own perspective to the text in ways that allow for further extrapolation to both our world and theirs. As “unconventional” as it may be, Nita and Kovit’s relationship is one that I loved, and love even more after When Villains Rise. Deeply entrenched heteronormativity, unfortunately, obscures stories like theirs, but I hope to see more like it in the coming years.
Just as with the worldbuilding, plotwise, When Villains Rise is an expansion more than anything, forcing Nita and Kovit to face the structural and cultural violence that is commonplace in their society. That’s not to say that they become the saviors the people need, but that their interests align with the greater good. Even as they walk the line between moral grayness and absolute evil, the whole of their actions could almost be seen as heroic. Almost.
The morals of the story, of which there are rather many for a series concerning the villains among us, aren’t particularly subtle but easily lend themselves to thought-provoking ethical discussions. From Kovit’s reluctance to kill people he knows, but utter disregard for any other human life, to the ruthless slaughter of his kind by everyday people, to the corruption and tacit approval of the corrupt INHUP, layers of evil are impressed upon the reader as facts of this world. They might leave us wondering whether we’ve gotten too acclimated to the atrocities occurring in our own.
As far as third installments go, When Villains Rise is a marvelous conclusion to this strange yet addictive series, and exactly what the readers who love it deserve.