Vicious by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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?
I am still a bit astounded that for a standalone book, Vicious developed a canon universe, gave plenty of time to secondary characters and has a unique twist on the superhero genre, all in the span of around 350 pages. The story opens to the present, with Victor escaped from prison and out to get his revenge on his friend-turned-foe Eli. Taking us back through flashbacks and progressing through different POV, the picture starts to piece itself together – of two sociopathic young men with a talent for making the almost impossible within mortal reach. Through experiments, they determine that extraordinary abilities can be developed. The consequences of their powers, however, surprise and scare them, and leads to a vicious (ha!) showdown between the two.
This is not a story of a hero versus villain. As much as you like to pretend that Victor is (because he gets the first POV) doing it out of jealousy and malice, and that maybe Eli’s characterization is just viewed through the lens of an unreliable narrator, when it comes to Eli’s POV, all doubts are dispelled. It becomes a story of antihero versus antihero – the question only being who committed more crimes against humanity. Eli has a God complex, and Victor is apart from his humanity, but now the latter is showing signs of holding on to his friends and well, his intentions are not as bad. The plot also posits an interesting discussion of what it would mean to come back to life, but broken – it can affect a person in many ways, least of all the fact that you met death and came away alive.
But besides the showdown between the two main focal points of the story, you also have these amazing well-rounded secondary characters that mirror them. Serena and Sydney, sisters who were once so close, now torn apart because of betrayal, mistrust and their deaths. Serena was infinitely more interesting than Eli, because she had his attitude without the pesky god complex, and was definitely a more formidable foe. Sydney – gifted with her unwanted power, having to grow up so quickly was heartbreaking to watch. Mitch was also amazing, and I liked that he was basically a giant teddy bear, able to hold his own in between all these super-powered individuals.
Finally, the plot, while quite simplistic if you look at it from a distance, weaves beautifully between the characters and delivers good twists at a heart-pounding pace. Towards the end, the cliffhanger scenes were getting too much for me, and I was so scared of how things would turn out. It ended very well, in my opinion, even though it leaves an open-ended question to the existence and knowledge of the EOs. In conclusion, this is a book I would probably read more than once.
P.S. Technically, this is not a YA book but I like it and it is devoid of any ‘mature’ elements, so it is up here.