Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Published September 24, 2013
In the present, escaped convict Victor Vale plots a dish best served cold against his former friend Eli. Ten years prior, as bright university students and roommates, Victor and Eli move from a theoretical examination into whether ExtraOrdinaries (EOs) exist to a scheme to actually create one, granting themselves supernatural powers.
Vicious is my fifth overall book of Schwab’s and third separate series (I’ve previously read the Shades of Magic series and Our Savage Song) and once again she demonstrates that pacing is a strength of hers. Vicious does an excellent job of maintaining tension throughout this quick read, to the point where I found it hard to put down! I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next and how the inevitable clash between Victor and Eli would play out. The book is tightly plotted and the shifting between the present day after Victor’s release from jail and ten years prior during his friendship and falling out with Eli effectively moves the action forward while slowly revealing more about each character.
The superhero/supervillain origin story is often explored in fiction, and even some of the general ideas underlying how ExtraOrdinaries “EOs” are created are not so unusual (near death experiences and adrenaline), but I loved that in this book the resulting powers are not random or tied into survival, but are influenced by a person’s last thoughts before death, so Victor, who thinks ‘why wouldn’t the pain stop?’, has the ability to turn pain up and down in himself and others as if turning a dial.
I’m a sucker for an interesting morally grey anti-hero and Vicious has this in spades. When an anti-hero is well-written, we root for them even as they make choices that are morally dubious (in television, characters from Breaking Bad and Dexter come to mind, in books The Talented Mr. Ripley is a good example) and I never stopped rooting for Victor Vale. It helps that there are signs that Victor has a heart, He collects strays in Sydney and the dog Dol, and does care for his former cellmate Mitch, but he’s also fascinated by and even initially drawn to Eli because he senses something wrong about him, that he is a monster under the surface. I loved Victor and would happily read anything written about him.
I was less engaged by Eli as a character personally, but I still found him an excellent antagonist for Victor. He believes that because he put his life in God’s hands and received a power that doesn’t harm other people ,he is a hero. In Eli’s eyes, all other EOs are wrong, soulless creatures and he uses this to justify his decision to kill the other ExtraOrdinaries.
The supporting characters are just as interesting and I have a soft spot for Mitch in particular, who seems to be the muscle of the team, but is actually a clever hacker who is constantly under-estimated mentally, but also for Sydney who finds safety in the most unlikely of places, Victor Vale. Along with Dol, the dog Sydney revives, they make such an endearing team that I couldn’t help rooting for them and was left wanting more when the book ended.
The exploration of what makes someone a hero or a villain, a monster or a human being is part of what makes Vicious so engaging. Eli views himself as a hero, but Victor has always seen a darkness lurking under the surface, even before their experiments succeeded. Serena freely uses her power to get her own way and knows that there is something off, something missing, in her post-death, but she still cares for her younger sister and wants to protect her. Sydney is perhaps most interesting of all, since her powers have made her more than she was previously, a bolder individual who is no longer in Serena’s shadow. She maintains her humanity even as Serena seems to have lost some of hers. Eli and Victor were both somewhat monstrous to begin with.
Goodreads tells me there’s going to be a sequel to this book and I, for one, can’t wait to see what Victor will do next! And on a shallow note, I’m not normally one to judge a book by it’s cover, but how gorgeous is the cover design for this book?!
Highly recommended as a quick, fast-paced read with engaging characters and an exploration of morality and what makes us human.