Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Series: Stand Alone
Date of Publication: September 24, 2013
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars – “Unique and addictive story, complete with complex character relationships and a dark spin on the superhero concept”
Superhero fiction seems to be full of fresh and fun ideas these days, and Vicious is no exception, taking a familiar idea and going to new places with it. There was a huge surge of interest in this book among my bookworm friends recently, which is admittedly how I decided to give this title another look after having shelved it as a “maybe”. What a wonderful thing word-of-mouth is, or else I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of reading this great novel, and I hope by adding my praises to the chorus that someone else will be inspired to pick this up too and experience the awesomeness for themselves.
At its heart, Vicious is a fascinating look into the dynamics of an unconventional friendship. Still, you can’t throw a couple of intelligent, ambitious and overachieving college students into the same classroom without expecting some jealousy and a bit of friendly competition…that is, unless you’re Victor and Eli, a pair of roommates who take this game to a whole other level.
It begins with a senior thesis. Eli, to the surprise of his professor and fellow classmates, chooses to research “EOs”, or ExtraOrdinary humans with special abilities. Meanwhile, Victor decides to explore adrenaline responses. The two young men realize their interests mesh, however, when they discover a link between near-death experiences and the process of a person developing superpowers thus becoming an EO. And so, speculation leads to experimentation, experimentation leads to disaster, and ten years later we find Victor breaking out of prison on a mission of revenge to kill his one time roommate and friend.
What ever did happen between them, you ask? The book unravels that mystery slowly, alternating between the present and the past, slowly revealing the events that led to Victor and Eli’s falling out and becoming archenemies. Time skips done in this way are notoriously hard to pull off, and at times the jumps between chapters feel somewhat distracting and sporadic, but ultimately the story comes together in a way that ramps up the suspense in the climax and ending. The plot’s pacing will keep you constantly wondering, guessing, and chomping through the pages.
It’s also been a while since I read a book with such interesting relationships between the characters. I think anyone who has ever known a “frenemy” can understand or relate somewhat; Schwab does an excellent job exploring those emotions and interactions when Victor and Eli are still roommates in college. Yet the relationship between them in ten years’ time is something altogether different and even more complex. I’ve never encountered a story where the lines between “hero” and “villain” are more blurred. You know how they say the bad guy never believes they’re bad? Ultimately you might not even decide to root for anyone, but that certainly doesn’t make the characters any less compelling.
Finally, I adored Vicious‘ concept of EOs. What a dark spin on the superhero “origins” tradition. And here we thought radioactive spider bites, random chemical accidents and cosmic disasters were traumatic. What if in order to become a superhero, you had to experience a near-death experience, to actually die and somehow make it back? I would have loved to see more about EOs in the context of the book’s greater world; after all, they have to be more than just a myth in the eyes of the populace if even small town police forces dedicate the resources and manpower to maintain EO experts on staff.
Anyway, check this one out. I’m glad it was recommended to me, and I’d like to pay it forward and recommend it to others too. Vicious ranks high among the most unique and addictive books I’ve ever read.
4 of 5 stars