Book Review

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Victor and Eliot (Eli) are college students.  Room mates and best friends, they are constantly competing with each other – whether it’s to be top of the class, or for a girl.  They have much in common – intelligence, arrogance, and a certain aloofness that holds them apart from their class mates.

For his thesis, Eli chooses to investigate the existence of “ExtraOrdinaries” – EOs – people who have superhuman powers.  Examining reported instances, Eli stumbles across a theory as to how an EO develops their ability.  Sharing this with Victor, they begin to experiment, unable to resist the possibility of being more than human.

I want to believe that there’s more. That we could be more.  Hell, we could be heroes.

They are successful, but their experimentation has dire consequences…

Ten years later, Victor has been incarcerated and escapes from prison with a single aim – to take his revenge on Eli, who betrayed him.

Vicious jumps around in time between their days in college that set these events in motion, to the current day and Victor’s mission to take his revenge.  Victor has assembled a ragtag crew to help with his mission:

  • Mitch – Victor’s cell mate, and a computer hacker
  • Sydney – a young girl, and another EO
  • Dol – a dog that Sydney has rescued

The back stories of these characters are all laid out beautifully, without resorting to an info dump part way through the story – it blends in seamlessly, telling you all you need to know about those involved.

I really enjoyed Vicious.  It’s a brilliant, imaginative twist on the theme of superheroes, and an original idea.  Unlike many novels featuring those with superhuman abilities, this isn’t about good vs. evil:

There are no good men in this game.

This is about vengeance and betrayed trust, and I liked the murkiness of the characters.  Each tries to justifies his actions – Victor is driven by his desire for vengeance, whilst Eli’s motives are rather different.  He believes that in obtaining superpowers, the individual loses some fundamental part of themselves, almost like they’ve sold their soul (a la Dr Faustus) in some unnatural alliance.  He convinces himself that he is a hero, that what he is doing is for the greater good.

If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain?  He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.

I also enjoyed the consideration of nature vs. nurture when it comes to superheroes:

In comic books there are two ways a hero is made.  Nature and nurture.  You have Superman, who was born the way he was, and Spiderman, who was made that way.

I think that most people have considered what ability they’d like to have as a superpower – I know I have – and so it’s easy to understand the appeal for Victor and Eli as they develop the theory of how such powers might be obtained.  Who wouldn’t be tempted to try it, given the opportunity?

Vicious is wonderful – extremely well plotted (the ending is brilliant!) with gritty characters.  It’s different to novels that explore similar themes, and is well written and entertaining.  I really enjoyed it.

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