Written by: Victoria Schwab
Published by: Tor
Release date: September 24th 2013
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Sci-Fi
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
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.
Let me begin with a disclaimer: Out of all 110 books I have read so far this year, Vicious is my favorite. But I want to be clear — this isn’t a case of it being one of my favorites, or favorite-by-a-very-small-margin, or anything like that. While I’ve read a lot of good books this year, Vicious is flat out, hands down, honest-to-God, simply and wholeheartedly my favorite book of 2013. Take from that what you will.
The above is a disclaimer because with a book this good, I have a really hard time forming actual coherent thoughts about it, let alone stringing together words to tell you exactly how much — and why — I loved it.
I could tell you how the characters grabbed me from the very beginning, the very first page. I could tell you how the writing, while beautiful in its own right, wasn’t something to be read but something that just flowed with pure story and character and emotion. I could tell you how, while I read this book, my focus was so narrowed to whatever was happening on the pages, I could barely concentrate on anything else.
I could tell you that this book is exactly what I didn’t realize I’d been craving, until it hit me right in the feels.
I always (always always) say this about books, whether I love them or not – characters are a huge deal for me. They are, really, what make or break a book for me. Ultimately, it comes down to: Do I feel anything for these characters? It’s not even whether I can relate to them, though that is a plus. If I’m able to care about the characters, that’s a huge win. I knew Schwab was more than capable of making me care about characters, because The Archived was so stellar in that department — and Vicious only proved this once again.
The main duo — villain and hero? hero and villain? …villain and villain? — are Victor and Eli. Extremely intelligent and practically inseparable 10 years ago, Victor and Eli used to be college roommates. When they’re asked to decide what they want to research for their theses, Eli decides to research ExtraOrdinaries, or “EO’s”, and see what could cause those kinds of powers to manifest. (Hypothetically, of course – at first, the existence of EO’s is something of a joke.) Victor researches adrenaline and its inducers and consequences. The two end up being connected, and this leads Victor and Eli into a series of experiments – on themselves – to see if they can actually turn themselves into ExtraOrdinaries. They do… and as soon as they both succeed, they turn into vicious enemies.
The narrative itself switches back and forth between two time-periods — ten years ago, in the time before, during, and after Victor and Eli gain their EO abilities; and the present day, after Victor escapes from having been in jail for 10 years, now dead-set on getting revenge on Eli for putting him there.
It’s a fairly simple concept – the convicted bad-guy wants revenge on the ‘hero’ who put him away, right? Well, sure. But what happens when the ‘hero’ has lost it, killing people because of a twisted sense of duty; and the ‘villain’ goes after him, not because what the ‘hero’ is doing is wrong, but driven by his desire for revenge? The ‘hero’ is getting his just deserts, and the ‘villain’ is doing something that might be considered right, except for the wrong reasons.
So who’s side is the audience supposed to be on? There is no clear-cut ‘hero’ in Vicious. Neither individual is completely evil or completely good. Eli is obviously in the wrong, killing innocent people who happen to have abilities — but he’s doing it out of an insane sense of duty. Victor is cold and calculating, driven by revenge. He may be doing a good thing, stopping Eli from killing more EO’s, but he’s certainly not doing it for the reasons one would assume, and he’s not opposed to creating his own casualties along the way.
That being said… I was Victor’s from the start. I have a soft-spot when it comes to rooting for villains. I don’t “root for them” in the sense that I want them to win if they’re striving for something awful (obviously). It’s just that I find them fascinating and I’m drawn to their characters and their intensity. I’d take Warner from Shatter Me, or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from the Thor movies, over either “hero” in those stories any day (one is more truly a “villain” than the other, but you get my point). The reasons for their “villainy” are complex, and they have a rich backstory that makes their actions rather tragic, as bad as they are — not excusable, by any stretch of the imagination, but still tragic. Also they have that draw of being possibly-redeemable, if given the chance.
Whatever the draw, Victor was it for me.
And he’s not your normal sympathetic character. He’s been put through some horrible things thanks to his own ambitions and the betrayal of a friend. He’s driven by revenge – an objective that is certainly not “hero”-material. But at the same time, the way he’s written, I couldn’t help but sympathize with his situation. Part of this sympathy probably came from his lack of what we’d call “normal human emotions” – he is so focused on revenge that everything around him is put into the perspective of “how will this help me fulfill my goal?” But the sympathy didn’t exactly come from that trait itself – it came when cracks started to appear, when he opened up and let himself care, for even the smallest moments, about something — or someone — other than his goal.
I would never have been able to articulate this before reading Vicious, but Victor is a character I have been wanting to see for a long time. The apparent villain, thrown into a situation where he’s actually doing something good, while keeping a firm hold on his calculating nature, his intensity… all that good, villlain-y stuff. You get to see from the his perspective, and not only feel somewhat justified in rooting for him and his goals, but also watch as his shell begins to crack a little, and get to root for his humanity as well.
But enough of Victor. (Oh who am I kidding, I will never get enough of Victor – but I do have to move on.) The other characters on Victor’s “team” are fantastic as well. There’s Mitch, Victor’s cellmate and friend who escaped with him from prison; and Sydney, a 12-year-old girl who happens to get swept up in Victor’s search for Eli. Sydney and Mitch are really strong characters in their own rights, and in many instances they served to humanize Victor, to cause some of those cracks in his dead-set-on-revenge attitude. (…Aaaaand we’re back to talking about Victor again. Oops.)
VICTOR-RELATED AWESOMENESS ASIDE. How about we talk about the awesome building of tension? Because man. The tension. It’s there from the very beginning. We know where things end up – the book opens with Victor having escaped from jail, so when the scene jumps back to 10 years ago, we know there’s only one direction things are headed. But having the timelines overlapping in this way — there’s two stories, with two climaxes, all building up at the same time. One of them, we know is coming — whatever happens to send Victor to prison, and Eli’s turn for the worse… But the other — Victor’s final confrontation with Eli — is a mystery.
You’d think with the ever-present tension, it would be a somewhat balanced read… but no. When the real tension starts amping up in the last quarter of the book, and the confrontation between Victor and Eli looms closer and closer… There’s no eloquent way to put this. I couldn’t handle the feels. All of a sudden, without realizing it, my whole world had narrowed down to the square foot of space where I had the book open in front of me. You would’ve needed a crowbar to pry that book out of my hands. The ending was intense, guys. There may have been whisper-yelling. There may have been actual yelling. There were definitely MANY FEELS.
If you were brave enough to power through that entire review… wow. You’re awesome. But if you weren’t, that’s okay. Here’s what you need to know: READ VICIOUS. In all seriousness though. If you’re a fan of anti-heroes, or villains who might possibly be redeemable, you need to read this book. If you’re a fan of the ‘superhero’ genre and want to read a book that’s dark and obsessively engaging, read this book. If the premise of two already-a-little-twisted individuals gaining superpowers and pitting their powers against each other sounds remotely interesting to you, read this book. If you’re a fan of layered characters who twist our view of what a ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ can be, read this book.
In conclusion…? Read Vicious. Best book of 2013. Just… *shrugs* That’s all I’ve got.
ALL OF THE STARS, OKAY?
Edited to add: Woah woah woah, hold the phone. It’s actually OFFICIAL. Vicious was chosen as one of Publishers Weekly‘s BEST BOOKS OF 2013! What did I tell you? Read this book!
Edited 12/17/2013 to add: VICIOUS MOVIE NEWS!!!!