Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

Review: “Vicious” by V.E. SchwabVicious by V. E. Schwab
Genres: Adult Fiction, Science Fiction
Published by Macmillan on September 24th 2013
Format: Hardcover
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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?

My love for this book is a quiet thing. Except, of course, when I was screaming WHAT JUST HAPPENED as my mind exploded without a sound. Kinda contradictory, I know.

I think that’s because the writing is nuanced and inconspicuously brilliant. Schwab never gives too much, but rather only what is needed. What is given though says so much, especially if you really stop to think about it. Her writing is rather stealthy, as it builds tension slowly until WHAM! everything is happening and you don’t know what hit you but you really can’t draw enough air to formulate your feelings but damn. It’s pretty magnificent.

I really enjoyed the way the story was told, too. The chapters were pretty short (again, Schwab never gave us too much) and flashed backwards and forwards in time, from ten years ago when the two MCs were in university (some of my favorite parts), to a couple days ago leading up to the present and about a day past that point, with a few other scattered looks into the past. Normally, this method can be excruciatingly frustrating, but it really was done so well. * claps * I have nothing but applause. The story also had alternating POVs, though at uneven intervals, which I thought was, for the most part, a well-used method.

Vicious is very character-centric, and I myself just COULDN’T GET ENOUGH OF THEM. Above all, I deeply appreciated the way that Schwab managed to portray them not as psychological cases, but as people. Sure, maybe there were symptoms of some syndrome or disorder, but coming to a diagnosis is hardly the point — in fact, it would only discredit and obliviate the depth and development put into these characters. I was surprised by how earnest and believable the characters were (especially Eli and Victor), considering that, when viewed from afar, it all seems pretty desperate and drastic.

“If he’d had to judge based on the two of them, then ExtraOrdinaries were damaged, to say the least. But these words people threw around–humans, monsters, heroes, villains–to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics.”

Victor was such a unique and complex character, and just the kind of person you want to get to understand. I totally understood the way Sydney (the young, powerful girl mentioned in the synopsis) believed in him and stayed by him. We got such little peeks into his life and thoughts, but I do feel like I understood at least some core aspects of him. He doesn’t lend himself to easy characterizations of “good,” as he can be rather violent, unforgiving, moody, and arrogant… yeah, not-so good. But “good” is most certainly not the point of this book as I’ll talk about later. Though he’s twisted, he is an undeniably compelling character.

Sydney was a great character too — she was very believable for her age and situation, and yet also very much her own person. Her unconventional relationship with Victor, and also the motley, riff-raff group Sydney, Victor, and Victor’s ex-cellmate Mitch form is one of my favorite parts of the book.

“’Sydney, look at me.’ He rested his hands on the car roof and leaned in. ‘No one is going to hurt you. Do you know why?’ She shook her head, and Victor smiled. ‘Because I’ll hurt them first.’”

And of course, Vicious brings up all sorts of moral questions related to hero/villain stories whose answers we usually take for granted. Mainly, does the good/bad dichotomy really exist? Vicious shows us that it’s a lot less real than we make it out to be. Both categories are rather fuzzy, but “good” perhaps the most. Believe me, this reads a lot better in the book than I can describe!

“The paper called Eli a hero. The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli was really a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain? He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.”

The slight issues I have with Vicious is the pacing and the ending. Neither of these issues mean that I didn’t love the book, but they’re still there. The WHAT IS HAPPENING moments happened before the halfway point in the book, and the rest of the book felt markedly different in terms of pacing. I was never bored, but it’s hard to keep the same kind of crazy energy going.

I was also little surprised by the ending, because, well, it was a quiet ending. Again, quiet, and probably more brilliant than I know, which is why I really want to reread again soon. But I think I expected some sort of moral epiphany being reached, and there isn’t one, which I also understood. And a bit more that I’m not sure is a spoiler but I don’t want to reveal too much about: View Spoiler »

But after the last page I just wanted MORE. I rarely do, and I love a good standalone, but I think even though it’s ending says a lot very simply, it also leaves a lot unsaid. I think it could’ve stood for at least a very short prologue, HEA or not. But this could change if I’m satisfied with it upon rereading.

Vicious quietly stole its way into my heart, and something tells me I’ll be needing a re-read soon. I can’t wait to read more by V.E. Schwab!



  • I heard a lot of people were miffed by the ending too but loved the way the story set out. The friendship turned rivalry turned enemies relationship between the 2 main characters kind of reminds me of the movie The Prestige 😀

    • Yeah — I don’t think that the ending ruins it, but I just think it’s surprising based off the first half of the book. All in all it’s still DEFINITELY worth the read if you’re thinking about it! I’ve never heard of The Prestige, but I just looked it up and it’s directed by Christopher Nolan, so I’ll have to see it soon 😀 The rivalry does sound similar, but I’d argue that the stakes in Vicious are a lot higher! I think their friendship based on jealousy reminds me a lot of the classic book A Separate Peace, if you throw in superpowers and shake things up a lot.

  • I love this book soooo muuuuuch. *tackle hugs all the characters* I mean, Eli was freaky, BUT STILL. They were all so well written and the entire book is a gargantuan grey-area. I love that. I adore that. I bought A Darker Shade of Magic just on the basis that VE Schwab’s writing is to die for. ^_^ I can’t wait to start it!!
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    • The characters really were amazing. I love the way Schwab described Eli before he got his powers — like this perfectly charming boy, but with a crack through which you can see some sort of scary void, full of ambition and dark things. And I questioned every time I’ve used the word “bad” since reading this book! Actually, I came up with one of your “things books have taught me” for it: you’re only bad if you’re badder than the other guy. I also already have ADSOM but I feel like I’m saving it to savor later just because I know it’s going to be so good!

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