Hey guys! I’m Cerys from Browsing For Books and the lovely Ash has asked me to do a guest post for her blog! In honour of the release of V. E. Schwab’s Vengeful I thought I’d share with you my review for the first book, Vicious! So without any further ado, let’s get into it!
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: September 2013
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction
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?
Vicious opens in a cemetery in a town called Merit during the middle of the night, with our protagonist, Victor Vale, carrying a shovel, whistling as he goes. Sydney, a girl, small for thirteen, follows him in her rainbow leggings, nervous but not afraid. “What if they accidentally wake up?” she asks Victor. In response, Victor replies “Look at it this way… If you do wake them up, they can’t go anywhere.” And then they start digging.
If you are looking for a superhero, good guy vs. bad guy story, this is not the novel for you. Vicious rewinds to ten years before the graveyard. Victor Vale and his college roommate, Eli Cardale, need to declare a research topic for their Comprehensive Science class, with Victor choosing to research adrenaline and its fight or flight response, whereas Eli chooses to research ExtraOrdinary human beings, or EO’s. The two end up teaming up and experimenting on themselves, eventually turning themselves into EO’s but with disastrous consequences. Fast forwards ten years and Victor Vale has just escaped from prison, and the two former best friends are now mortal enemies.
Vicious was one of those books that I’d only heard great things about. I’d owned it for over a year, but it was like I was waiting for the perfect time to read it, like I was saving it for something special. V. E. Schwab is an author I admire and so I wanted this experience to be incredible. So when I finally decided to read Vicious I was nervous; nervous that my expectations were not going to be met.
Besides Victoria Schwab being the author, the premise of this book is what first drew me to read it. All of my expectations of what the book was going to be like came from the completely wrong direction. Instead of a Victorian-ish era, alternate reality, gothic, mad scientist, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man esque story, I found what can only be described as a maturer, darker, more easily accessible X-Men. The book is morally ambiguous and you get sucked into that grey area, knowing that you’re rooting for a murderer and loving every second.
In terms of plot, not an awful lot happens. Vicious is full to the brim with details and technicalities that really bring the world together, making the science behind the magic believable and realistic. The events that take place, however, are quite simple and straightforward. The ‘now’ of the story takes place over two to three days with the intention of the plot unclear at first, but always reeling you a little bit more every chapter. In between these chapters, Schwab flashes back and forth between the ‘now’ and to the backstory. The events that happened ten years ago were actually more interesting than the ‘now’ at first, and these two time periods being interwoven helped to amp up the tension as the book progressed, preparing the reader for the oncoming showdown between Eli and Victor.
For me, there was only one disappointing aspect to the novel. Victor and Eli used to be friends, this we know from the start, and the fallout is something that is hyped up to be this huge thing that leads the events of the entire novel. And yet, when we finally discover what happened, it feels entirely underwhelming. There is a huge lead up in the backstory, and we truly get a good look at the characters both as friends and as they were before the fallout. But then this one event happens and everything falls apart in one night. And then it’s over. Somehow, Victor goes to prison and Eli continues on living out in the world. We don’t get to see how this hatred slowly consumes Victor, how it takes over his life and becomes his sole purpose for living. We are just told that it happens. Which is fine, but I just wanted more drama.
Victor Vale is the highlight of this novel. He is dark and brooding, cold and withdrawn, he sees himself as the villain. Yet you find yourself rooting for him. He isn’t even particularly charming or witty. There’s nothing obvious that draws you to him as a character, and yet, you become so desperate for him to succeed. Ultimately, it’s something deeper, something that Victor himself would not want people to notice, that draws us to him. It’s his unrelenting interest in Eli, someone who is so similar and yet so different to him. His ambition and unwavering confidence, his unexpected yet welcome moments of empathy. His care for Sydney. Victor is like that older brother everyone wishes they had; cool and aloof, yet deep down, would lay their life on the line for you in a heartbeat.
Eli is a great counterpart to Victor, with the two characters moving in the same direction, paralleling each other at every moment. The involvement of the two sisters, Sydney and Serena, identical if not for age, shadowing them throughout the story, creates a perfect balance. Eli is the golden boy, not aged a day since he died, handsome and alluring, warm and charming – everything Victor is not. But underneath that façade he is afraid; afraid of himself, of what he has become, and afraid of others like him. All this combined with a false sense of righteousness and a god-like power leads to some questionable decisions and murderous tendencies.
Superhero stories have become such a huge part of the zeitgeist of today’s western pop culture it’s impossible to not think of them when reading Vicious. We’ve always been told unrelentingly that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, or that ‘power comes with a cost’. In Vicious this is certainly the case, except, unlike someone like Spider-Man, Eli and Victor get drunk on power, stocked full of hubris and disdain. It is interesting that it was the plot that drew me in to this novel, but it’s the characters that made me want to stay. They are complex and interesting and antagonistic; against the black and white background of the world, they stand out in full colour. In Vicious Eli believes that EOs have something missing from inside of them, but as a reader, they are more full of life, more well-rounded and compelling than the ordinary, filler characters.
Mitch is probably the only character in the novel who is not an EO worth talking about. Mitch is big, bald and tattooed, wrongfully imprisoned a handful of times and Victor’s former cellmate. Everyone thinks he’s a thug, but really he’s not at all brutish in nature. This misconception and dissociation of appearance vs. reality highlights the discussion at the forefront of the novel, what you see is not what lies underneath. The characters are ducks swimming on a lake.
“Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”
What the book really highlighted for me was that the difference between a hero and villain is a matter of perspective. Victor sees himself as a villain, and I’m sure Eli does too, and yet one of the first things Victor does when he escapes from prison is save a little girl who has been shot. Eli believes he’s a hero but murders innocent people without hesitating. Things are not as they appear. Eli has become a cold blooded killer, and in turn, shown how ruthless humanity can be. Victor has become consumed with revenge, and while his methods of obtaining that may be less than desirable, he becomes the hero he never believed he could be.
‘Hell, we could be heroes.”
“We could be dead.”
“That’s a risk everyone takes by living.”
Ultimately Vicious is a fast paced, revenge thriller full of interesting characters and a plot that highlights that, even if your characters aren’t morally compelling, you can’t help but fall in love with them. So do you want to read a book about a little girl bringing people back to life, a not-so-zombie dog, an antagonistic anti-hero and villains galore, all set in an incredible, science fiction, alternate reality with some wonderful prose? Yes? Then this is the book for you.
Have you read Vicious? What did you think of the novel? Are you excited for the sequel?
Tell me about it in the comments below!
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Note from Ash:
I just want to say a MASSIVE thank you to Cerys for writing such a fantastic book review. I’m definitely purchasing Vicious after reading it!
Please be sure to give Cerys’s blog and Social Media channels a follow. 😊
If you’re interested in writing a guest post then please do feel free to contact me. Either leave a comment below or email me on: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you! 😊
Cerys’s review of Vicious is perfectly timed as Vengeful, the second book in the series is released on the 25th September! If you would like to purchase both books, you can do so here:
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