Published by Tor on September 24th, 2013
Genres: science fiction
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.
Woowww. This book was not at all what I was expecting. Looking back, I’m not sure what it was I thought I was getting into, but Vicious took all my expectations and turned them on their heads. And for the better. Schwab weaves quite a bleak and grim world in this one, with characters who are neither black or white, but a muddy shade of the gray in between good and evil. While I felt the pacing was a bit off, all of the wait was well worth the while when we reached the epic conclusion.
Victor Vale is the star of the show here, and what a complicated character he is. Probably my only complaint about his is that I don’t quite understand his drive before the ExtraOrdinary shenanigans begin. We know he is ambitious as hell, estranged from his pop-psychologist parents, and borderline sociopathic, having trouble connecting to nearly everyone around him. I guess I just wanted to know where that drive and ambition came from, because it seems… strange. I don’t know. He and Eli do quite a lot for the sake of science – including risking their lives – and with their characterization, it was quite believable that Vic would go that far, but there was always the remaining question of why underneath it all. At least for me. But this by no means makes him any less compelling. What I find the most interesting about him, though, are the things he doesn’t see in himself. He sees himself as cold and calculated without care for others beyond their use to him, but we, the reader, can see that’s bullshit. Victor very visibly grows throughout the course of this novel, and the ways the book was happy in the face of devastation – well, those were the moments were savoring.
The story between Victor and Eli isn’t an unknown one. We’ve seen it before: best friends from youth turn on each other and later in life seek revenge on the other. Dumbledore and Grindelwald. Magneto and Professor X. The way this book is written – half in flashbacks to Eli’s and Victor’s pasts, and half in the here and now – it’s the unraveling of the betrayals that is the most interesting. Because we start on one side with Victor planning his revenge, but on the other timeline, with the two being as close as they could be. So what happened? What drove Victor to the state he’s in, ten years later, bent on killing Eli? We start out with Eli almost being the hero, with Victor being the villain of Eli’s story. But the real truth is so much more complicated than that. Neither is hero and neither is truly villain either.
Though Vicious mostly revolves around the story of Victor and Eli, the side characters give this story the depth to really make it stand out. Mitch, whose truths are slowly revealed throughout the course of the novel, is a character who starts off as background noise, but turns out to be one I feel fierce protection over. Seriously, the slightest danger coming Mitch’s way would send me reeling. And then there’s Sydney, the young girl Mitch and Victor picked up from the side of the road, sporting a gunshot wound and her own unique talents. Sydney is the key to so much of this book, tying all the characters together in a nuanced way that none of them were expecting. And there is Serena. If I could choose one power from this book, it would be hers.
My one real complaint about Vicious is with the pacing. Told in a series of flashbacks that were interesting at first, the momentum of the story lagged quite a lot in the middle. Instead of offering insights into the characters’ motives, these flashbacks instead deflated the speed and intensity of the book. You would get caught up in the story – whether it was the past or the present – and once things really got juicy, you’d be pulled right out of it and thrown into another timeline. I think this, most of all, is why it took me six days to read this book, though it’s only 350 pages.
The payoff, though, it well worth the wait. So often you build up to these epic conclusions that, instead of bringing the action and the intensity, fizzle out and disappoint. That is not the case in Vicious. Though I think I’d have like a little more detail, I think that’s a me thing – I don’t shy away from gore and I would have liked to see some of the people suffer a little bit more as they realize they’re not going to win this thing. But it was still all kinds of awesome and too often I could feel my heart beating out of my chest as time and time again, my favorite characters’ lives hung in the balance.
I am seriously kicking myself for not picking up Vicious sooner. Lili has wanted me to read this book for over a year now, and I honestly should have listened to her. This was the most Epic of Recs to be sure. If you’re into grey morality, kick-ass supervillains, and stories of good guys going horribly wrong, you really, really need to give this book a go.