The main problem with Jesse Lasky’s Schooled in Revenge—a tie-in novel to ABC’s Hamptons-set Revenge, returning for its third season later this month—is that its premise hinges on one of the television series’ most preposterous plot points.
As fans of the show know, protagonist Emily Thorne was taught the ways of revenge by sensei Satoshi Takeda, who also trained her love interest, Aiden Mathis. Throughout the first two seasons, the show suggested that Takeda ran a “revenge academy” to help sexy young scorned people exact retribution on those who wronged them. Schooled in Revenge tells the story of a different group of Takeda’s students, focusing specifically on Ava Winters, a naive Napa Valley wine heiress whose legacy was stolen out from under her. Ava quickly realizes that she and her fellow four classmates’ quests for revenge are intertwined and all roads lead to the same end: a corrupt senator who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means killing. Schooled in Revenge is an easy, quick read, but broad characterizations and increasingly serendipitous twists hold back this soapy saga from being more than just a nifty marketing tool for the show’s upcoming third season.
Subtlety is not Schooled in Revenge’s strong point. Early in the book, one character utters the line, “My rage is what fuels me!” without a trace of irony. The characters “train” with Takeda on his remote Japanese island for more than a third of the novel, and Takeda’s words of wisdom sound like they were lifted from a direct-to-video kung fu flick: “Revenge is not a swift blow to the skull or the simple pull of a trigger…rather, revenge is death by a thousand cuts…a restoration of justice, of balance.” And when Emily Thorne shows up to impart her own sage advice on the young revenge cadets, it’s as if she’s reading from a “Revenge Academy” brochure: “It’s been nearly 20 years, and thanks to Takeda, the people responsible for tearing down my father are finally beginning to get what they deserve,” she says. “And wait till you see the tennis courts and Division One sports teams!” might as well follow.
Things take a turn for the better when the students discover that their tales are intertwined and decide to head for Napa without Takeda’s knowledge or blessing. A few brief scenes in a beautiful, rustic bed and breakfast recall the early days of the television show, when part of the fun was watching these wealthy people indulge in their absurdly decadent Hamptons riches. When the group decides to infiltrate a swanky gala to put their convoluted plot into motion, the reader is subjected to a vengeful version of Ocean’s 11, which turns out to be quite fun, while the various “takedowns” of the bad guys are almost as fun as Emily’s wicked plans on the show. And a few sexy bedroom scenes and descriptions of half-naked, hard-bodied men are a good reminder that it’s all supposed to be frothy fun. A quick epilogue also makes way for a possible continuation of Ava’s story, which could be interesting.
Unfortunately, in the end, Schooled in Revenge misses the point. One of the ongoing themes of the show is the sad truth that no matter how much pain Emily causes the people who ruined her father, her actions will never allow her peace of mind to move on with her life. No amount of carnage will bring Emily’s father back (unless the show decides to turn the entire plot on its head), and as long as Emily holds onto her crusade, she’ll never be happy. Lasky ignores the poignant moral of the show for more of a cheap thrill; for the most part, Takeda’s students don’t realize that erasing the reminders of their past losses, errors in judgment and poor decisions won’t actually give them what they really need.
The most puzzling aspect of Schooled in Revenge, though, is why this is the story Lasky decided to tell in the first place. In the season two finale, Takeda’s true intentions were revealed: his fiancée was a flight attendant on the airplane bombing that Emily’s father was falsely accused of financing, and Emily was simply a pawn in his own plot to avenge his lost love. Given that revelation, the whole “revenge school” idea unravels. Why is Takeda helping these characters? There’s no implication in the novel that the “Napa scene” has anything to do with the airplane incident, and since Lasky is a writer on the show, it seems odd that such a point would be ignored. It should also be said that in the “About the Author” section, Lasky notes that he grew up on Long Island—so why does the show get the geography so wrong?
Revenge returns for its third season on Sunday, September 29. Check out DansPapers.com on September 30 and every week thereafter for Lee’s weekly recaps of the new episodes.