Book Adaptations: Killing Eve

This post was updated in May 2020

Since Killing Eve is now about half-way through, it’s the third season. I thought it was time to update this post. I had initially intended to get it done before the premiere, but I wanted to finish reading the final novel Die for Me, which released at the end of April (2020) first.

Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with that book, and I wanted to finish writing the review to get it out of my system before updating this text.

But here we are. In this update, I’ve cleaned up the text, removed old or inaccurate text, and added new information about the final novel and the third season.

THE BOOKS

The Killing Eve books are written by British author Luke Jennings.

This is a trilogy made-up of one short-story collection, Codename Villanelle, and two novels No Tomorrow, and Die for Me. All stories are published chronologically and should be read in order. 

All three books are relatively short at around two-hundred and fifty pages. I talk more about editions and audiobook narrations in my review of the second book

Killing Eve centers around the idea that there is a secret organization known as The Twelve. 

This powerful group manipulates events, big and small, to their advantage. Their influence is everywhere, and they are ruthless.

However, The Twelve is not a crime syndicate; they certainly operate in that sphere and have no apparent morality, ethics, or regard for democracy. But, they’ll as easily target organized crime as they will a political institution if they get in the way of their agenda.

The overshadowing presence of this group is much more apparent in the books than in the tv-series.

One of the tools available to this group is assassins that they recruit and train. One of them, Villanelle—a flamboyant psychopath and an extremely efficient killer—is one of two main characters in the series.

The second one is Eve Polastri. When her story begins, she is an undervalued, bored, desk jockey at the British MI5. 

Eve is able to recognize a pattern in several high-profile killings. She puts forth the idea that they’ve been done by a woman. Eve is put in charge of a small secret task force with the intent of catching Villanelle.

And so the chase begins.

What eventually evolves is a mutual obsession between these two women.

Apart from an engaging story, interesting locations, beautiful visuals, and great female characters, the first the books have a thrilling, sensual, and sometimes even erotic undertone.

They are easy to read, the language uncomplicated, but they have a distinct style; they’re elegant. Imagine someone like Gillian Anderson reading you a story.

The first two books are fantastic. Unfortunately, it seems like the success of the Killing Eve overtook this series, and the third book is a real disappointment. 

The first two are definitely worth reading. With the third, I’d recommend you read a few reviews to see if you think it will be to your taste. Many people seem to adore it, but there are also many disappointed readers. 

THE SHOW

Available on: BBC America, AMC, HBO Nordic

The firsts season of Killing Eve premiered in April 2018, the second in April 2019, and the third April 2020. The show received an early renewal for season four in January 2020 and likely premiere in April 2021. 

It was developed for TV by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, known for the show, Fleabag. But from season two and onward, the show has had a different (female) head writer every season. 

All three seasons consist of eight episodes with a run time of between forty(ish) minutes up to an hour.

The series stars Sandra Oh, and Jodie Comer; both have received critical acclaim and won several prestigious awards for their portrayal of Eve and Villanelle.

It also stars the fantastic Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, the woman who recruits Eve. Carolyn is an original character and does not appear in the books, but she is an incredible addition. 

As for the other side-characters, they’re great, but most have been revamped. As with Carolyn, you can see the framework of some of them in the books. However, ages, genders, and appearances in the series are changed to fit the new narrative. 

The only one except for Eve and Villanelle that stays relatively true to the books is Eve’s husband, Niko.

Season 1 is, for the most part, based on the first four short stories. But, after reading the second book, you can tell that Luke Jennings must have had discussions with the writers. He’s clearly revealed the plot of the second book. Certain events and characters from the sequel occurs or are present in the firsts season.

Season 2 does not follow the events of the second book. This is necessary as the dramatic cliffhanger at the end of the first season does not happen in the novels. So, as season two deals with the aftermath of that event, it has to be a separate story-arch. Although, some elements from both the first and second book has been incorporated into the story.

Season 3 So far, season 3 is not true to the books. Some characters, like Dasha, are present in the final book, Die for Me. But, the only similarity between the character in the book and the TV series is name and nationality.  

IS IT A FAITHFUL ADAPTATION?

No. Apart from the revamped side characters’ there are significant differences. From season two onward the TV-series almost completely diverges from the books.

While the tv-series focuses almost exclusively on Eve and Villanelle, the books are much heavier on intrigue, The Twelve, and Villanelles backstory. The books are also much more of a “slow burn” than the TV-series.

With the direction the show has taken, as well as the disappointing plot in the third book, I find it unlikely that the show will try to move more towards the books again. 

Killing Eve does it’s own thing and is now a show based on the characters more than a faithful adaptation of the books. 

WHICH IS BEST?

Honestly, it’s tough to make a comparison because the books and TV-series are so different in pacing, tone, and style. The books have a cool elegance that builds the obsession between these women slowly.

The TV-series exudes adrenaline from the first episode and the chemistry between Eve and Villanelle immediately packs a punch.

What speaks in favor of the TV-series is the fact that if you, like me, are a fast reader, you’ll get more hours of entertainment out of the TV-series than the books.

What speaks in favor of the books is the focus on backstory and the slow burn that lends plenty of time to build these characters personalities and motivations. Until the third book, the characterization, especially Villanelles, is sharper and less reliant on superficial personality traits than the show is.

Both are witty and visually stunning.

I think season one is on par with the books. The second season is not as strong. Having read the second book and it’s amazing twists and turns, I was disappointed with where TV-series took the story and the characters. It wasn’t bad, but not as strong nor as interesting as the novel.

The third book is a disappointment, and although we’re only half-way through, I find the third season much stronger than the book.

WILL I ENJOY BOTH?

I think so. I hope so. The first two books are lovely, they deserve as many readers as they can get.

Despite a weaker second season, the tv-series is one of the best available right now. I’m sure a few years down the line  Killing Eve will be one of those defining shows that inspired a new style of storytelling and made other networks scramble to try and recreate the magic.

Wither you read the books or watched the tv-series first, you need to approach the other with the understanding that in terms of tone, style, and pacing, they are entirely different.

If you can do that I believe you’ll be able to enjoy and appreciate them both. 



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