I knew I’d like this novel, but I didn’t know I’d like it this much! I devoured this book, and you should too.
V. E. Schwab’s Vicious is about Victor Vale and Eli Ever (I see what you did there, Victoria Elizabeth!), two college roommates who declare similar thesis topics and soon become obsessed with their idea. In this world, “EOs” or “ExtraOrdinaries” are people who develop strange powers after a near-death experience. Victor and Eli’s experiments involving the creation of EOs get out of hand quickly. When Victor does something terrible, Eli turns on him, and Victor ends up in jail—and forever changed. Ten years later, he is free, and determined to get revenge on his former best friend. Meanwhile, Eli has made his own plans and is resolved to carry them out, no matter the cost.
I’ve been obsessed with Schwab lately, and this has only increased my affection for her. Reading a book with two villains as the protagonists was a novel (pun not intended) experience, as was the premise. Taking the concept of the adrenaline rush and making that the catalyst for developing X-Men–like powers is so clever. And then watching Victor and Eli’s foolhardy, impulsive experiments transform it even more is fascinating. Some of the themes here are reminiscent of Frankenstein, at least in that there’s a Victor messing with science, but also in that these two are messing with forces they shouldn’t be, and end up creating monsters.
This is a great story, with the narrative shifting back and forth between their time at college and ten years later once Victor emerges from prison. The way Schwab has structured this narrative is excellent; seeing these different times juxtaposed gives us more insight into how their relationship started and then devolved. The bond between these two men is at the center of this story, and though they are both terrifying, their relationship is also so enthralling.
I also loved the other characters. Sydney is a fantastic kid, with an intriguing power and an emotional backstory. Serena provides a frightening counterpoint to Sydney; her power is chilling and troubling. Mitch is one of my favorites, mostly because I too love chocolate milk but also because I admire his loyalty. And then there’s Dol, my real favorite, because he’s a dog.
In the end, this story is fantastic. The anti-hero vs. anti-hero plot is so morally gray, but the leads still have such clear motivations and manage to be… well, not sympathetic, but understandable. You can see how they got to this point, and want to see how they get out of it. The concept of ExtraOrdinaries is wonderful, as is the execution of that concept. The characters’ personalities and powers are well-established and explored. The plot structure is wonderful and moves at a steady pace, escalating the tension with each page until reaching a stellar climax. With this Schwab has continued to cement herself as one of the best sci-fi/fantasy writers I’ve ever read. I can’t wait to start the next book!
Overall rating: 8.7/10