- Title: Vicious
- Author: V.E. Schwab
- Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
- Year Published: 2013
- Setting: The city of Merit and Lockland University
- Point of View (POV): Third person omniscient
- Themes: Antihero, Power, Revenge, Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, Religion, Death
- My Rating: 9/10
- Favourite Quotes:
- “All Eli had to do was smile. All Victor had to do was lie. Both proved frighteningly effective” (Schwab 16).
- “Victor wondered about lots of things. He wondered about himself (whether he was broken, or special, or better, or worse) and about other people (whether they were all really as stupid as they seemed” (Schwab 27).
- “But these words people threw around – humans, monsters, heroes, villains – to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics. 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” (Schwab 252).
*WARNING! THIS REVIEW – LIKE MOST OF MY REVIEWS – CONTAINS SPOILERS!*
Vicious is an adult paranormal urban fantasy novel about two extremely intelligent young men, Victor Vale and Eli Cardale (later known as Eli Ever). The two began as college roommates and when it was time to choose their thesis topics, Eli chose ExtraOrdinaries, people with supernatural powers. Through his research, Eli discoverd how EOs are created: one’s heart has to stop and then they must come back to life. Victor is the one who suggested the two of them experiment on themselves to try to become ExtraOrdinary. With the tempting possibility of becoming “more,” of becoming “heroes,” Eli agreed (Schwab 51). They underwent the experiments and after some trial-and-error, succeeded in becoming ExtraOrdinary, possessing their own supernatural powers. The novel is revealed piece-by-piece through alternating chapters of the past, in which the two are attending Lockland University as friendly intellectual rivals, and the present, when they are true enemies hell-bent on killing the other. Victor’s power of controlling pain – his own and others’ – is the more formidable of the two, and it leads him to the accidental murder of Eli’s college girlfriend. Eli, his power being the ability to heal himself, calls the police, who take Victor to prison. From that point on, Eli decides that EOs are against the laws of nature and need to be exterminated, and he uses a crazy religious excuse to validate the mass murder of every EO he can find. Meanwhile, in prison Victor concocts a revenge plot against his former friend and after ten years he succeeds in breaking out and begins hunting Eli down with the help of his cellmate Mitch and a young ExtraOrdinary girl he stumbles across named Sydney. I cannot remember the last time I’ve read a book with an antihero and Victor Vale was just that. I rooted for him – despite his villainous qualities – because of the two men I found Eli to be the more horrible. The experience of rooting for a so-called ‘villain’ was interesting and refreshing, and for this reason I can’t wait for the sequel to be released!
Due to the backstory of each character being told at different points in the novel and the main plot continuing to be interwoven throughout, points of conflict arise at many different moments in the novel. Often with novels that contain a lot of flashbacks, I find myself preferring one storyline to the other, finding either the past or the present to be more compelling. However, with Vicious I was completely enraptured by both storylines, regardless of which character was being focused on or what point in time was being described. The flashbacks never caused me to feel disconnected from the story and instead made me feel even more invested in it. I was also happy that this novel was so well-balanced between plot movement and character development, because of its range of interesting and unique characters. Vicious was never dull and information about the characters and their motives was fed to the reader at the perfect pace.
My emotional attachment to this novel was complicated, since I had to adjust to the idea of an antihero. Normally, readers will root for the protagonist and await the antagonist’s downfall, but for Vicious it isn’t that simple. I wouldn’t call either Victor or Eli protagonists, but I did choose to root for Victor and hoped that he would succeed in taking Eli down. My biggest emotional attachment was to the secondary characters that made up Victor’s team: Mitch, the intimidating convict on the outside who is an intelligent softy on the inside, and Sydney, a twelve-year-old EO who can bring the dead back to life. Also, despite him not being a ‘real’ character because he is a huge black dog, I loved Dol, who Sydney brought back to life after he was hit by a car and who she actually convinced Victor to let her keep as a pet. This odd group was the perfect team for Victor and without them his plan never would have succeeded.
I have been meaning to read one of V.E. Schwab’s books for a really long time and Vicious did not disappoint. The way she wove this story together impressed me and shows how talented of a writer she is. The only thing that I wasn’t as impressed with was how tidy the ending was. Everything seemed to work out exactly according to Victor’s plan, despite the extremely high possibility that something could have gone wrong. He just happened to meet and ally with the perfect people that could help him in successfully outsmarting Eli and he just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Both Mitch and Sydney were almost killed and although that would have upset me, it would have made everything more believable if one of them had actually been injured or even died. I finished the novel feeling awed at Victor’s brilliance and ability to predict how everything would end, but when I tried to rate the book I just couldn’t give it full marks and I couldn’t figure out what was stopping me. Finally, I realized it was because the ending was just too perfect for it to be completely believable. Regardless, I am eager to read Schwab’s other novels and am looking forward to experiencing more of her storytelling.
Vicious is the novel that I chose to read from the adult fiction category and I enjoyed reading about a different age group for the first time in a long while. In the main storyline Victor and Eli are thirty-two years old and it was different for me to read about characters who are beyond the “I need to find myself and discover who I am” stage in their lives. In young adult literature, this exploration of one’s personal identity is a key theme that tends to come up in one way or another in most novels. However, in adult literature the characters are usually more sure of themselves and their goals in life. For Eli, this goal is to rid the world of ExtraOrdinaries because he believes they are unnatural and his god would want them killed. And for Victor, his goal is revenge on Eli for sending him to prison. While these are not typical adult goals, they work in the world of this novel. Aside from these factors, this novel also contains explicit language and some graphic scenes that may not have been published in a young adult novel but are deemed more appropriate for a mature audience.
Vicious can definitely be sorted into the category of paranormal urban fantasy, for it features “paranormal characters . . . in a contemporary setting. City settings are especially popular (ergo the subgenre Urban Fantasy)” (Burcher et al. 228). As implied by this definition, the city setting was crucial for this story. As Eli says about the city of Merit, it “had attracted an impressive number of EOs, by virtue of its population and its many dark corners. People came to the city thinking they could hide. But not from him” (Schwab 217). Had the story not taken place in a city, it would have been more difficult to believe that so many EOs could be found in the same place. This is the first fantasy novel that I have read that takes place in a city in the ‘real world’. In most fantasies that I have read, they take place in an invented world, such as in the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas or The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. Most recently, I read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, which took place in the ‘real world’ but in a rural rather than urban setting. Having fantastical elements in a city that I could clearly imagine as being similar to Toronto, New York City, or London made it feel like something like this could really happen in our world. In my review for Miss Peregrine’s I said that to fully enjoy it, the reader needs to suspend their disbelief, but this was not necessary for Vicious; readers can just imagine the story occurring in the city nearest to them and it will bring the story to life.
I would definitely recommend this novel to just about anyone who doesn’t mind reading some violent scenes. It is a fascinating experience, having the main character be an antihero, and makes readers really consider what makes a person good or evil. Victor contemplates this throughout the novel, as you can see above in the quotes I chose as my favourites. If you kill someone by accident, does that make you a villain? If you hunt down a person who has committed mass murders, does that make you a hero? What if that person says he is doing it because his god is telling him to and truly believes it is the right thing to do? Good and evil is not black and white, there is a lot of gray area in between and this is what Vicious is exploring. I really enjoyed this novel, aside from my feelings that the ending was just a little too tidy, which is why I gave it a 9 out of 10. This novel by V.E. Schwab is unlike anything I’ve read before and I believe that is hard to find in literature – and film – in recent years. This is a book that will be on my mind for a while, that’s for sure.
Burcher, Charlotte, Neil Hollands, Andrew Smith, Barry Trott, and Jessica Zellers. “Core Collections in Genre Studies: Fantasy Fiction 101.” Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 3, 2009, pp. 226-231.
Hill, Beth. “Checklist for Editors.” The Editor’s Blog, 19 Aug. 2015, E.A. Hill, theeditorsblog.net/2011/06/07/checklist-for-editors. Accessed 3 Sept. 2016.
Schwab, V.E. Vicious. Tom Doherty Associates, 2013.