Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Release date: September 24 2013
Source: ARC from author
In a word: An unexpectedly different superhero story, full of love, evil, danger and viciousness, written with spare and lovely prose, with a careful and precise construction that will leave you breathless.
She pulled away enough to hold him with her cold blue eyes. He could see the devil in them, silver-tongued and cunning, and Eli thought, not for the first time, that he should have killed her when he had the chance.
You might have noticed that I am awarding Vicious the Books, Bones & Buffy Award of Awesome! This is the third book to receive this award, and I don’t give it out lightly.
I knew Vicious was a story about superheroes and that the main characters meet in college and embark on some kind of adventure together, but that was about all I knew when I started reading. I didn’t know I was going to fall in love with all of the characters (even the most evil ones!). I didn’t know that the super powers of these characters would be so subtle and unusual. And I didn’t anticipate the utter brilliance of the way Schwab constructed her story: by jumping back and forth through time, slowly peeling away layer after layer of her complex tale, giving the reader only hints at first, then carefully revealing its shocking depths. Schwab is like a diabolical choreographer, telling us her twisted story in bits and pieces as each chapter unfolds.
I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, but here’s a quick rundown of what’s happening. Eli and Victor are college roommates who end up in a senior thesis class together. When the professor asks his students to declare their theses, Eli boldly decides that he will try to prove that ExtraOrdinaries, or people with extraordinary abilities, exist. When Victor proposes that they experiment on themselves to prove Eli’s theory, the story takes a suddenly dark and menacing turn, and before you know it, friends have become enemies, and safety and happiness are things of the past.
Vicious was a completely unpredictable story. I did not see many of the twists coming, which means I was constantly worried about each character. In the beginning it’s hard to understand all the relationships between the characters, but you just have to go with it. Like I said before, the author doles out information gradually, and while you may be wondering “How did Eli and Serena meet?” in one chapter, you will find out later when the pieces fall into place. I had many “ah ha!” moments like this, and I adored this method of storytelling.
And the characters. What can I say about them? I loved them, I hated them, I rooted for them, I cursed them, I wanted to be sisters with one of them and happily assist in the murder of another. But I know one thing for sure: every character in this story terrified me at one point or another. Each of the main characters has an unusual power that, in typical superhero fashion, isn’t always what it seems. And each power eventually takes its toll on its user and changes him into something less than human.
Sydney was probably my favorite character. She’s a twelve-year-old girl who has been shot in the arm when the story begins. (I have a thirteen-year-old daughter so I immediately connected with her.) You don’t find out for many chapters why she’s been shot, but her run-in with Victor turns out to be fortuitous. They form a complicated bond that only becomes more complicated by the end of the book. The dog and the shovel in Sydney’s trading card are very important!
I loved Victor as well, and even though he did not always use his power for good, I loved the way he watched out for Sydney and the way he made friends with a computer hacker named Mitch, a side character with his own sad back-story that I grew very fond of.
On the other side of the coin are Eli and Serena. Eli has a very useful power and wants to use it for a terrible mission that puts everyone around him in grave danger. He’s teamed up with a tragically beautiful girl named Serena to help him in his quest, and together they are a force that is hard to beat. Serena was the most damaged of the characters and so for me, the most dangerous. When you discover her connections to the others you will be very worried, trust me! The details in Serena’s card are integral to the story, too; in fact this drawing describes Serena to a T!
Schwab gives each character a back-story (or maybe I should say “origin story”) that delves into the reasons they behave the way they do. For example, this object is very important to Victor—
—and makes him more human than he might otherwise have been. Once you get used to the circuitous method of storytelling, you will be turning pages as fast as you can. She masterfully ends the story with a scene that is almost identical to the opening chapter, but with a twist, of course. I have to say I was completely satisfied with the way things ended, something that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it to. Vicious is so good, that I wish I could read it again for the first time. I envy all you readers out there who have yet to crack open the cover and experience Schwab’s unique brand of magic.
Many thanks to Victoria for selecting me to participate in her ARC tour and providing a review copy, and for the set of Vicious trading cards that are pictured in this review.
You can find Vicious here: