Book Review

Vicious By V.E. Schwab


  • Author: V.E. Schwab 
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: September 24, 2013
  • Publisher: Tor Books
  • Series: Villains #1

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: reference to child abuse (off-page), substance use, violence, death, torture, harm to an animal

A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers.

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.

Another month, another buddy read with Becky @ Becky’s Book Blog! If you haven’t checked out her blog, you absolutely should, not just because she’s one of my favorite people in the book community, but because she writes some really amazing reviews and will absolutely expand your TBR. Susan was going to join us, but she was not-dying from some kind of illness and couldn’t. Hopefully you’re feeling better Susan!

I was nervous going into this, since Schwab books can be hit or miss for me. However, it was apparent really quickly that this one was going to be a hit. And Becky confirmed the same by our first discussion at 25%. 

Victor presents such an interesting character. He comes across rather quickly as a villain, but I changed my perspective on him as I got to know him throughout the book. He was more of an anti-hero, if anything. He’s morally gray, but he’s got a definite moral compass, and the fact that he picked Sydney up early on definitely earned him extra points. When Dol gets added to their crew, I only liked Victor more. He seems to collect this unusual crew with varied talents, but I loved the dynamic between all of them, and how they all just kind of adapt to each other’s quirks.

The story is told in this short chapters that make it really difficult to put the book down. It’s incredibly addictive, and compulsively readable. They shift back and forth in time, ranging between present day and when all of this started a decade ago, when Victor and Eli were roommates in college. But a senior thesis centering on near-death experiences changes both of their lives. The fact that the chapters were so short made it easy to keep track of where the story was in time. 

This book really had me thinking about how we decide who are heroes and who are villains. At first, Eli seems like the hero while Victor is the villain, yet that opinion changes as I read a bit more. Neither of them are heroes, exactly, but I guess it made me think about how villainy exists on a continuum.

“Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

I wasn’t sure how I’d like this book, but it turned out that I really enjoyed it a lot. It started out exploring the circumstances surrounding the creation of EOs, or ExtraOrdinaries, people with special powers, reminiscent of X-men or other comic books. But it also delves into ambition and how it can get twisted, religious fervor, and the nature of heroes and villains. I loved reading a book where there weren’t any real heroes, and everyone was basically morally gray. Becky and I would rabidly rave about the book during our discussions, and couldn’t even come up with any theories because the story was so unique and unpredictable that it was hard to get a handle on where it could possibly go next. 

Throughout the story, there was a lot of building up to a final encounter, but it never felt boring or lackluster. I was constantly surprised by the plot twists, never knowing what was going to happen next, making the reading always an interesting experience. All of the characters, even the side characters, felt well-developed. And after a while of only getting Victor’s POV, we start getting POV chapters from Eli and then some insight into the other characters POVs as well. I loved seeing the world through their eyes, as well as learning what they were thinking, and the different things that made them the way they are. And the magic system in the story was fascinating—the way that powers are bestowed, and how different each of them are. While this book could definitely work as a stand-alone, I’m still excited to read the next book in this series.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 14

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