By V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Titan Books
Source: Gift from Micheline of Lunar Rainbows Reviews ♥
To Sum It Up: College friends Victor and Eli are both extremely intelligent and extremely driven. Their academic research has them studying the possibility of ExtraOrdinaries, people with superhuman abilities, and what causes such abilities to develop. Victor and Eli take their experimentation to extremes, and the fallout sees Victor end up imprisoned for ten years while Eli takes it upon himself to eliminate EOs, whom he’s come to view as unnatural. Eli is about to find himself facing his former friend again, though, after Victor escapes from prison, all of his focus set on getting revenge against Eli.
Review: Holy morally ambiguous characters! Oh Vicious—what a deliciously twisted read you were, and what a storytelling tour de force from Victoria Schwab! I was already madly in love with her Shades of Magic series before reading this, but now I’m even more in awe of her prodigious talent because Vicious is a novel of staggering ingenuity.
Vicious is NOT your average superhero story. Oh no. Although it deals with the type of special abilities that might be associated with characters like the X-Men, Victor Vale and Eli Ever (originally Eli Cardale, but once you develop a superpower, an alliterative name is the only way to go) are neither your average heroes nor your average villains. There are no clear-cut good or bad guys here; instead you’re presented with a set of characters and their words, thoughts, and actions, and it’s up to you to form your own opinions of them. Me, I absolutely LOVE characters who walk a tightrope between good and bad, who refuse to be neatly classified as one or the other. I like my characters very, very complicated, not cookie-cutter, and Victor and Eli are about as complex as you can get, from their individual characters to their relationship with each other.
Going back to the X-Men, I definitely felt like Victor and Eli had a Professor X/Magneto dynamic going on at times. Victor and Eli are drawn to each other’s genius and there’s a mutual respect for each other’s brilliance, but that respect is also undercut by rivalry and jealousy. One-upmanship eventually leads to the destruction of their friendship and has repercussions beyond just the two of them. After Victor and Eli perform some insane experiments using themselves as the test subjects (!) to discover what causes some people to develop superhuman abilities and become ExtraOrdinary, everything just goes to hell. Victor gets locked up for the next ten years while Eli, convinced that Victor is damning proof that EOs shouldn’t exist although Eli’s an EO himself, goes hunting them down. Eli’s unwavering belief that he’s doing good by killing EOs and therefore protecting the innocent from them is absolutely chilling. And then there’s Victor, who has his fair share of blood on his hands, too, but who doesn’t share Eli’s ideology. So would Victor be somewhat of a hero for taking out Eli, as he intends to? But Victor is more than prepared to kill to get to Eli. These are the questions that you’ll turn over and over and over again in your head as you read Vicious.
The science behind EOs is really well done here. That kind of stuff can really be hit or miss with me, typically miss. Vicious, however, hits the sweet spot when getting technical. There’s just the right amount of explanation, neither too broad nor too overwhelming in detail. The existence of EOs feels entirely plausible, as does the science that produces them.
As if there wasn’t already a multitude of things to gush about with this book, I must add its narrative structure to that lengthy list. Vicious jumps back and forth between Victor and Eli’s college days in the past and their impending showdown in the present, with a few important stops along the way. It’s extremely effective in building up the suspense and tension as you wait for these two former friends turned adversaries to face each other once again. It’s that anticipation, the absolute need for this clash to happen, that produced some frenzied page-turning.
My brain is still reeling from reading this. Vicious challenges the notions of good and evil in every possible way with characters who defy moral categorization. And I savored every single page of it! Vicious was precisely my type of tale—dark, unconventional, witty, and its characters teeming with every shade of gray imaginable.
All in All: What a perfect way to kick off the second half of 2016! Vicious is easily one of my favorite books of the year, and one I won’t be forgetting about for quite a while yet.