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?
Tell Me More: Villainy is a dish best served cold and ruthless–the most memorable villains are those that do the unspeakable and can still smile as though nothing could please them more. We are enthralled by them, even as we fear them, because they appeal to a part of our humanity that is mostly buried underneath societal norms, for good reason. And more often than not, the stories of how they chose to tap into that cold are just as fascinating. V.E. Schwab (Victoria Schwab, to YA readers) takes that fascination and fashions a story that seems familiar at first, but raises the stakes of the origin story to new heights.
Victor is not meant to be a hero. It did take me a chapter or two to get used to distrusting him, even as I wanted to know more about his life and his motivations. I do think that readers will start by sympathizing with one character over the other, but that becomes almost impossible soon enough. Victor and Eli are not opposites, they’re mirror images of one another. They ebb and flow, rather than crash into each other–when Eli is ruthless, Victor is a little more cautious, and vice versa. Using the terms “good” and “evil” is doing Schwab’s characterization a disservice, because Victor and Eli are both when they want to be.
It’s the wanting that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary, the characters postulate, the actual pursuit of one’s ambition to the abandonment of everything else including life itself. And what a postulation it is: Victor and Eli are precise in their plans, which predictably don’t go exactly the way they want it to. Schwab brings in exactly the right details at the right times to reveal what happened to drive the friends apart, despite their “success.” The supporting characters are captivating without overshadowing Victor and Eli, and they highlight the extremes that both men have reached. Schwab’s choice to use flashback chapters also helps to neatly draw the story together without sacrificing page time, and her pacing is immaculate.
Much of this review is vague, but only because it’s hard to really delve into the thematic elements that Schwab addresses without spoiling the story. And to be honest, I’ve always thought that that is one of the markings of a truly excellent story: it comes to life when you read it, and trying to describe it is a lot like trying to talk through a curtain.
The Final Say: Vicious is not a story of heroism and courage in the face of danger, but of the extraordinary ruthlessness that humanity is capable of. Readers looking for nuanced storytelling and richly drawn characters will find much to adore in V.E. Schwab’s first adult novel.
Victoria is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she has been known to say “tom-ah-toes,” “like,” and “y’all.”
She also tells stories.
She loves fairy tales, and folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.
Categories: Book Reviews