Book Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” – V.E. Schwab, Vicious

Over the summer, I had the pleasure of reading the book Vicious by V.E. Schwab, which is where the above quote is from. It’s the first book in the Villains series, although the other books have not come out yet.

I’m shocked at myself. This book came out back in 2013 and I only learned about it now. I could have read this wonderful masterpiece years ago. But, if I had done that, I would still be waiting for the second book in the series. I’m not sure if I would have survived that.

The first two paragraphs don’t give away too much, but the third and following gets pretty spoiler-y: 

Without giving away too much of the plot, Vicious tells the tale of Victor Vale and Eli Ever, two college roommates who turn into bitter enemies later in life. The two meet and realize that they’re similar in certain ways, which causes them to form a strong friendship with one another, despite the fact that to everyone else, they seem exact opposites. Victor is awkward and introverted while Eli is charming and popular. What connects them, though, is their brilliance, their drive, their need to find something more.

They are joined by Eli’s future girlfriend Angie. By their senior year, Victor and Eli start working on a research project together that involves adrenaline and near-death experiences. During their research, they discover that under the right circumstances (aka near-death experiences), people have the ability to develop seemingly supernatural abilities. Of course, Victor and Eli try to test it on themselves.

Victor’s first attempt fails. Eli’s attempt succeeds, and suddenly his body has the power to heal itself. Victor tries again later, but, spoiler alert: he succeeds and now has the power to take away or give pain, but he ends up accidentally killing Angie because he can’t control his power. He calls Eli to tell him what happened, and Eli calls the police on him out of grief over Angie. The police hold Victor over night but ultimately let him go for the time being. Victor goes to confront Eli and the two physically fight each other, to which Eli wins. Eventually, Eli decides he wants to defeat the evil that is ExtraOrdinaries (EOs), or people with powers, by killing them.

Victor goes to jail, and Eli remains free, able to kill as many EOs as he wants.

Fast forward 10 years to the present:

Victor escapes jail and is on the hunt for Eli. Eli still looks the same as he does before on account of his power, and Victor’s trying his hardest to track him down with the help of one of his prison friends, Mitch, and a young girl named Sydney, another EO with an extraordinary power. Throw into the mix the fact that Sydney’s older sister, Serena, is also an EO and is working with Eli because she has the power to control people’s will, keeping him from killing her.

There’s a lot more plot behind it, but just know this: eventually Victor and Eli confront each other again like they did before Victor was arrested, and it’s great. You might be able to see the ending coming, but it was satisfying nonetheless.

Despite the fact that Victor is not your traditional hero and he’s incredibly unattached to most things, I like him. I’m a sucker for a good anti-hero. I like the idea of good vs. evil not being black and white like a lot of stories make it out to be, but instead having a lot of grey area in between. Victor’s not fully bad, but he’s nowhere near fully good either. His reason for doing what he does is not necessarily for the good of anyone but himself, but he’s trying to defeat someone who is killing innocent people, which could constitute being a “good” person, even if it is for selfish, vengeful reasons. He’s got depth and layers to him which makes him better than any plain old “good” protagonist of a book.

It’s the same thing with Eli, although I hate his character. To most, he’s seen as the good guy for putting Victor in jail, and Victor is seen as the bad guy for killing Angie. But how can Eli be a good guy if he goes around killing people because of their powers? In his mind, what he’s doing is right. But if anyone else knew what he was doing, they could think he was a bad guy. The contradictions and the lack of black and white morality really have the ability to make you think.

The rivalry between Victor in Eli in their later life reminds me a lot of the rivalry between Ballister Blackheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin from the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, although the bad blood between Victor and Eli seems a lot darker than the other two. Ballister and Ambrosius were childhood friends who were to become knights. Ambrosius ended up sabotaging Ballister, who became a disgraced mad scientist villain intent on fighting against Ambrosius and Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. But like Victor, Ballister action and personality aren’t completely black or white. He’s got depth to him, and what he does isn’t always morally black. Often times, his actions also fall under the grey scale.

Another similarity between this book and Nimona is the fact that both the protagonists are disgraced anti-heroes who have a small girl with special powers that travels around with them. Victor has Sydney and Ballister has Nimona, although Sydney seems less inclined to use her power than Nimona is (I won’t say what Sydney’s power is because it’ll give it away, but it adds so much more to the plot!). But much like the rivalry between the characters in each book, Vicious has a darker feel to it than Nimona. Although some plot points in Nimona are sad or dark, the art style as well as the more lighthearted scenes keep it from being too dark.

If you enjoy books that are plot heavy while still maintaining deep, interesting characters, Vicious is the book for you. There’s so much to love in it.

Schwab has a few other books, and at this moment, I’m working my way through her Shades of Magic series. I read the first one at the beginning of the semester and I got kind of sidetracked before I could start the second one, but I have it and I’m ready to read it once the semester is over and I have more time.

But before you decide to read anything else, pick up a copy of Vicious. You won’t regret it.

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