‘Vicious’ by V.E. Schwab



I love games and stories which go in the opposite of what we have come to expect. Games like ‘Go For Broke’ which is basically reverse monopoly, or ‘Gloom’, where the aim is to make your in game family as miserable as possible before killing them off, have always peaked and held my interest and enjoyment. However, when I say “I love” them, what I mean is “I love them when they are done well”, and this book is done very, very well.

‘Vicious’ was sold to me as being about two villains going up against each other. It is a simple tale of jealousy, betrayal, and vengeance, however, what sets it apart from so many other books which deals with these themes, neither of the two men leading the story could be considered as “heroes” or “good guys”. Our main protagonist and antagonist are two staples in villainy. Cold, calculating, and seemingly emotionless, with the other being self-righteous and delusional, respectively. One recognises himself as being a monster, with the other firmly believing he is the hero on a divine mission.

The main protagonist is Victor, the highly intelligent offspring of two absent, best-selling, self-help book authors, who finds comfort and release in defacing/editing books via a marker pen. He sees himself as different from those around him, unable to fully fit in with his peers. Victor escapes from prison where he has spent the last 10 years waiting and plotting his revenge on his former best friend Eli, whom he met at college. In classic comic book villain fashion, Victor was quietly jealous of his charming, good looking friend who inevitably gets the girl that Victor had secretly wanted, as well as usurping Victor’s place at the top of the class. Things come to a head when the two start experimenting and making efforts to become ‘ExtraOrdinaries’ or ‘EOs’. These experiments leave both Victor and Eli with newfound powers, as well as lead to the accidental death of Eli’s girlfriend thanks to Victor.

One of the things I really loved about ‘Vicious’. It’s a “superhero” book with rules which are somewhat unique. The two main characters themselves point out how in every superhero story, the super is created in one of two ways, either they are made, or they are created. In the world of ‘Vicious’, they are created, specifically by going through a terrifying and painful near death ordeal… or to be more accurate, a terrifying and painful death in which they are brought back to life. These “survivors” return with new abilities which are tied to what they were thinking in their final moments of life. Victor ends up with powers that allow him to control the pain he, and others feel whereas Eli comes away with the ability to heal and regenerate himself. Although to begin with it is not understood how they obtained these powers, it becomes apparent after Victor reveals that he was desperately wishing he could “make it stop”, whilst being painfully electrocuted to death, gaining the ability to turn pain off and on like a switch, whereas Eli simply wanted “the strength to survive”, and so became immortal. I loved this idea because it’s so simple, yet opens up so many opportunities to play with. I also really like how it creates a straight forward set of rules to follow.

The book jumps back and forth between the present and the past as it tells the story of how Victor and his new band of “strays”, and Eli, came to be who they are and what they are, with each chapter being presented from a different character’s point of view. The story is fast paced and engaging and unlike many other books in which jumps between time periods, didn’t leave me in any way frustrated. So often when faced with a book which uses this technique, there’s always an annoyance at at least one section where I’m annoyed and just wanting to finish this section so I can get back to the part that is appealing to me. Each ‘jump’ and change of perspective is perfectly done, usually providing you with answers to the questions you were just starting to ask, as well as slowly building up the tension which helped the final payoff feel so satisfying.

I really liked the characters which all felt well rounded and understood by the author. None of them felt shallow or made decisions that didn’t make sense for the sake of plot. I could see and completely understand how Eli became the monster he did, his faith in God and the events which followed his and Victor’s experiments twisting his view of reality, convincing and deluding himself into believing that he was doing God’s work in killing other EOs before they caused anyone harm with their unnatural gifts. Rather than being in the traditional role of the hero who has to take down ‘the big bad’, Victor by contrast is simply the lesser of two evils. A cold and calculating “chess master” character with just enough redeeming qualities to humanise him. Victor understands he isn’t a good person and part of what drew him to Eli when they were younger is the recognition that deep down he knows he isn’t either. I really liked Victor’s character, the way he thought and planned was thoroughly relishing to read. I really couldn’t help routing for Victor throughout the book despite him clearly being a, very, bad guy, due to just how well written he was. Alongside Victor as he tortures and murders his way towards vengeance against his former friend are Mitch and Sydney. Both of these characters were equally as wonderfully written with neither being over played and I ended up growing just as attached to them as I was to Victor. Mitch, hulking, tattooed, but highly intelligent with a penchant for chocolate milk was fun and interesting. Clearly put into the role of henchman for Victor, he didn’t just follow blindly, he questioned and ultimately stepped in when Victor did something he didn’t agree with. Likewise, Sydney, a 12 year old EO with the ability to raise the dead was a refreshingly interesting character whose personal growth throughout the book was a real highlight.

Overall I greatly enjoyed this book, a simple, fast paced, engaging story with some fantastically written characters left me wanting more and more with each page I read, and ultimately satisfied when I finished the last. I’m somewhat gutted I need to wait almost nine months until the sequel is released.