A Series of Fortunate Reviews

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13. Book: Vicious, V.E Schwab

I would say that this is my favourite book so far, but I’ll probably find another book that I will also say is my favourite. But it’s on my favourite’s list – I promise. I could tell you that this book is exactly what I didn’t realize I’d been craving, until it hit me right in the feels.

I always (always always) say this about books, whether I love them or not – characters are a huge deal for me. They are, really, what make or break a book for me, as well as the plot overall. Ultimately, it comes down to: Do I feel anything for these characters? It’s not even whether I can relate to them, though that is a plus. If I’m able to care about the characters, that’s a huge win.

The main duo — villain and hero? Hero and villain? …villain and villain? — are Victor and Eli. Extremely intelligent and practically inseparable 10 years ago, Victor and Eli used to be college roommates. When they’re asked to decide what they want to research for their theses, Eli decides to research ExtraOrdinaries, or “EO’s”, and see what could cause those kinds of powers to manifest. (Hypothetically, of course – at first, the existence of EO’s is something of a joke.) Victor researches adrenaline and its inducers and consequences. The two end up being connected, and this leads Victor and Eli into a series of experiments – on themselves – to see if they can actually turn themselves into ExtraOrdinaries. And one thing I really loved was what biologically made a hero? As an aspiring psychologist I loved it how the non-fiction was mixed with fiction in order to create a believable and somewhat scientifically proven dynamic. They do achieve these abilities thanks to their research…and as soon as they both succeed, they turn into vicious enemies. They become different people due these abilities and that is a focal point of the novel – the people they used to be and the people they have now become.

“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” 

The narrative itself switches back and forth between two time-periods — ten years ago, in the time before, during, and after Victor and Eli gain their EO abilities; and the present day, after Victor escapes from having been in jail for 10 years, now dead-set on getting revenge on Eli for putting him there.

It’s a fairly simple concept – the convicted bad-guy wants revenge on the ‘hero’ who put him away, right? Well, sure. But what happens when the ‘hero’ has lost it, killing people because of a twisted sense of duty; and the ‘villain’ goes after him, not because what the ‘hero’ is doing is wrong, but driven by his desire for revenge? The ‘hero’ is getting his just deserts, and the ‘villain’ is doing something that might be considered right, except for the wrong reasons.

So who’s side is the audience supposed to be on? There is no clear-cut ‘hero’ in Vicious. Neither individual is completely evil or completely good. Eli is obviously in the wrong, killing innocent people who happen to have abilities — but he’s doing it out of an insane sense of duty. Victor is cold and calculating, driven by revenge. He may be doing a good thing, stopping Eli from killing more EO’s, but he’s certainly not doing it for the reasons one would assume, and he’s not opposed to creating his own casualties along the way.

How about we talk about the awesome building of tension? Because man. The tension. It’s there from the very beginning. We know where things end up – the book opens with Victor having escaped from jail, so when the scene jumps back to 10 years ago, we know there’s only one direction things are headed. But having the timelines overlapping in this way — there’s two stories, with two climaxes, all building up at the same time. One of them, we know is coming — whatever happens to send Victor to prison, and Eli’s turn for the worse… But the other — Victor’s final confrontation with Eli — is a mystery.

You’d think with the ever-present tension, it would be a somewhat balanced read… but no. When the real tension starts amping up in the last quarter of the book, and the confrontation between Victor and Eli looms closer and closer as each next chapter was entitled with shortening hours until the confrontation… There’s no eloquent way to put this. I couldn’t handle the feels. All of a sudden, without realizing it, my whole world had narrowed down to the square foot of space where I had the book open in front of me. You would’ve needed a crowbar to pry that book out of my hands. The ending was intense, guys. There may have been whisper-yelling. There may have been actual yelling. There were definitely MANY FEELS.

“Be lost. Give up. Give In. In the end it would be better to surrender before you begin. Be lost. Be lost and then you will not care if you are ever found.” 

In conclusion, if you’re a fan of anti-heroes, or villains who might possibly be redeemable, you need to read this book. If you’re a fan of the ‘superhero’ genre and want to read a book that’s dark and obsessively engaging, read this book. If the premise of two already-a-little-twisted individuals gaining superpowers and pitting their powers against each other sounds remotely interesting to you, read this book. If you’re a fan of layered characters who twist our view of what a ‘hero’ or ‘villain’ can be, read this book. I think I’ve repeated that enough.

Would I read this book again?

Hell yeah.

Would I recommend it?

Hell yeah.

“You must make time for that which matters, for that which defines you: your passion, your progress, your pen. Take it up, and write your own story.” 

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