Eve Polastri is an agent with MI-5. And MI-6
Villanelle is an assassin for the Twelve.
Normally in a series like this where there are two leads, I would title it "Villanelle and Polastri" but in this case, I go back and forth. First, whether to combine them in the title because that always implies the two are a partnership but that is definitely not the case with these women. Second, only Eve Polastri is a "spy"; Villanelle is a paid assassin for a greedy cabal.
So I give title role to Polastri and honorable mention to Villanelle. Thinking about it a tad more, Villanelle might shrug and not care. She also might become annoyed and end me. You never, ever know with Villanelle.
Starting with Villanelle because she is the first of the two the reader meets, her real name is Oxana Vorontsova, citizen of Russia. In her mid 20s, she had been a promising student in French and Linguistics at the University of Perm. That potential took a sharp turn when she was arrested for murder and sent to the Dobryanka facility in the Ural Mountains.
Vorontsova may or may not have confessed to the crime, for which she was definitely guilty, but she did not really proclaim her innocence either. A female teacher of hers had taken Vorontsova under her wing and nurtured her impressive abilities. When Vorontsova began to have urges towards the instructor, they were rebuffed which upset the young woman. Still, when the teacher was attacked and raped shortly thereafter, Vorontsova took it upon herself to find and castrate the man responsible. That he died as a result neither pleased nor worried her.
When talking about how Vorontsova, soon to be Villanelle, felt about anything, it is important to stress that any comment on emotion be guarded because Vorontsova really has none - or at least none in the traditional sense. She strived for years to pretend she had them but it was all pretense.
Vorontsova is a psychopath. She has her own style of emotions far different than the normal person. She can get excited or furious but the triggers for each are hard to predict. The concept of love and hate, however, are strange to her. Whatever she felt for the teacher, be it lust or possessiveness or curiosity, it was not love as most people know it. When that woman was attacted, it was not hatred at the assailant. He took something she wanted. She made him pay.
Being assessed as a cold-blooded killer would have likely put her away for life in the grey walls of the prison but Constantin, working on behalf of the Twelve, needed a killer. He needed a female because they were less likely to be suspected of being dangerous. He needed someone athletic and intelligent and good with languages to travel the world. He needed someone without a conscience to kill anyone at any time.
So he found her and had her trained for well over a year, all over the world and in a wide variety of fields she would need to survive. And then he put her to work, allowing her to pick her own codename. She chose Villanelle for a fascinating reasin (read the story to find out).
Eve Polastri is a 29-year old woman, married to Niko, working as the newly assigned head of P3, a subsection of the Joint Services Analysis Group in MI-5. It was her section's job to "assess the threat to 'high-risk' individuals visiting the UK". Her previous boss had moved up the chain and she was given the job and she enjoyed the challenge but still it lacked something.
She is described a good-looking but unremarkable person. "She might be an academic, or an assistant in the better sort of bookshop" it is written about her. More telling, though, is "Her colleagues know Eve Polastri as a hunter, a woman who will not readily let go".
It is this wanting of more in her job that will get her so intimately involved in the world of the assassin Villanelle. When a high profile visitor is killed in London, she takes the fall. No matter that she had advised on greater protection for him and had been rebuffed. Someone needed to take the hit and she was it. It probably did not help that she expressed the belief the killer was a woman. Male egos tend to be frail.
Out of a job and still sore about her being booted and still certain she had been right, she is primed for the visit of a big-wig in MI-6 who believes her and wants her to prove it.
So, the two stars of this series are women who are both hunters in their own way. Villanelle stalks her prey to eliminate them. Polastri stalks Villanelle because she finds she really cannot not go after her.