Vicious is an adult novel (violence), but V. E. Schwab is coming to YALC this year so I am trying to read as many of her books as I can beforehand. Also, and more importantly, she is a fantastic author and one I would definitely recommend!
- Vicious, V. E. Schwab
Rating: * * * *
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: Jan 2014 (UK)
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?
V. E. Schwab’s Vicious is a thrilling and immersing tale of betrayal and revenge. I raced through it.
The novel switches between different time periods, with some events taking place ten years ago and some much more recently, ‘last night’ or ‘a few hours ago’. As a result, the whole thing is like a puzzle, with different sections gradually being filled in, until at the end, you look back and survey the whole picture and can see the ties and relationships between all the different characters. Additionally, because each chapter is quite short, you get that burning desire of ‘just one more chapter- it’ll only take a minute!’, and before you know it, you have read on another fifty pages. It’s very addictive.
Victor Vale makes for a fascinating lead character. After growing up with absent parents who are psychologists, he has acquired the habit of borrowing or purchasing their books and meticulously erasing copious sections in black Sharpie so that the few words that remain form a proverbial-style comment. Victor has an intense and destructive intelligence and hunger for knowledge, and he studies others silently when they do not know that he is watching, seeing more of their thoughts and mindsets than they know. He especially studies his friend Eli.
The relationship between Eli and Victor very much reminded me of Jimmy and Crake’s in ‘Oryx and Crake’ by Margaret Atwood: like those two characters, both Eli and Victor like the same girl and this causes tension in their relationship, and both sets of friends end up as nemeses due to a science experiment. Victor and Eli’s friendship, in the parts that are set ten years before, always seems to be teetering on the edge of a precipice, with neither one of them fully opening up to the other and with both being struck more by jealousy than with admiration at any successes of the other.
One of the fundamental aspects of this novel that makes it so thought-provoking and complex is that the lines between good and evil, hero and villain, are indistinguishably blurred. All of the characters have darkness in them and none of them can be easily pinned down. None of them are fully likeable – even the main character Victor – because there is something unsettling about each, but each is intriguing and compelling. My favourite character was Mitch.
I thought that the first half of the novel was stronger than the second half and I was expecting a major twist towards the end but there wasn’t one. I also think that Eli’s character could have been more developed. However, overall ‘Vicious’ was an engaging and dark thrill-ride of a novel. I have now read two V. E. Schwab novels (the other being ADSOM) and have really enjoyed both. Schwab’s books are unique and brilliantly written, and she is rapidly climbing up my list of favourite authors.