by V.E. Schwab
Original Publication Date: September 23, 2013
Length: 364 pages
Obtained Via: I won a copy of this book
Format Read In: Hardback
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A masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?
In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.
Oh, how I have longed for a book like Vicious. Vicious is a book devoid of heroes(though perhaps not heroics). It is a book of fantasy and dark places, which makes the fact that it’s set in a near-future world all the more brilliant. Vicious is a tale of power, betrayal, and villains. And no one walks away a hero.
Vicious is a book that feels like a story, which I know is a weird way to describe a book. After all, aren’t all fiction books story? Yes, of course, but there’s an element to Vicious that makes it feel like a story that transcends a book, like it’s the type of story people would whisper about at night. Legend-like almost. The blurb calls is a “comic-style” world, and while I’ve never read comics, I see the comparison. It was this quality of Vicious that hooked me from the very beginning as I was introduced to Victor and Eli as their college selves. Two brilliant boys who find a fascination with an element and decide to play God and try to become ExtraOrdinaries themselves.
I suppose I should get the things that kept Vicious from being 5 stars out of the way in this review so I’m free to gush about the actual story. One, I found the premise of how EOs are made to be pretty basic, which I understand for plot reasons. However, I felt like more people would have discovered this other than Eli and Victor. It takes them only a span of a couple of pages to go from their thesis idea to testing.
That was a minor flaw in the plot of Vicious, but what really kept me from LOVING this one was the stakes. I never felt they were high enough. After Eli and Victor become EOs themselves, they part ways. Victor ends up in prison, and Eli starts hunting and killing people who exhibit abilities because he believes they are an offense of nature and something’s wrong with them. Vicious actually opens shortly after Victor releases from prison and has decided to hunt Eli down.
Despite Eli’s hunting of EOs, everything felt so. . . insular. These two have been nemesis for ten years, they each have a powerful ability, and the only people their actions really affect are a small group of EOs in ONE town? It didn’t feel like the stakes justified the extraordinary lengths the two characters each went to. I felt like if Eli had been at this for so many years, the final outcome would affect so many more people than it was alluded to have done. I wasn’t expecting world domination or anything, but something a little bigger, with a little more consequence.
Other than that, though? I was absolutely hooked on Vicious. I’m not always a fan of the split timeline, but it absolutely WORKED here. One timeline follows Eli and Victor when they’re in college, friends and roommates who believe they’re on the edge of a great discovery. The other timeline follows after Victor is released from prison and has decided to hunt Eli down.
The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious. They don’t always scream LEDGE, and nine times out of ten there’s no rope to duck under, no line to cross, no blood pact, no official letter on fancy paper. They aren’t always protracted, heavy with meaning. Between one sip and the next, Victor made the biggest mistake of his life, and it was made of nothing more than one line. Three small words.
‘I’ll go first’.
The way the characters moved and changed throughout Vicious was amazing. I would call it character progression, but that’s not quite right, is it, since they’re not becoming stronger. They’re all becoming more villainous, and at first I found my loyalties constantly changing. I’ve been asking for a book without a hero for so long, and Vicious totally delivered on that front. In the end, I may have found myself on Team Victor, but none of the characters are people I would want to be in life. And that’s what made it such a great read.
Vicious isn’t exactly subtle about it’s theme of “No heroes,” but it worked. Eli definitely thinks he’s a hero, but it’s quite clear from the actions he takes that he’s anything but, and one character even tells him as much:
‘You’re the hero. . . ” she said, finding his eyes, “. . . of your own story, anyway.”
Isn’t everyone? Everyone thinks they’re the protagonist, including each of the characters. I’ve talked about Eli and Victor for most of this review, but make no mistake, the side characters make this novel. I would have liked Vicious without them. With them, I thought Vicious was really great. There’s a released convict on Victor’s side, and two sisters who find themselves on opposite sides by chance. So many of these characters are the ones who provide the humor and levity in Vicious–which surprised me, because Vicious is quite funny at times, albeit with some pretty dark humor.
To end my review, I’ll leave you here with my favorite passage from Vicious:
But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics. Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labelled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.
Vicious was a really great read. While it never quite made it to 5 stars because of some plot logistical reasons, I REALLY enjoyed it overall. The dark humor, the idea of who’s a hero exactly anyway, and the side characters made this an entertaining read I devoured in one sitting. I definitely recommend it for fans of villains and anti-heroes. 4/5 cupcakes.