Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Posted September 28, 2014 by Renae // 9 Comments

Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Title: Vicious
Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: September 23, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books

Summary from Goodreads:

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?

Ten years ago, college roommates Victor and Eli decided to test a theory that near-death experiences turn people into ExtraOrdinaries (aka EOs, aka superheroes). Turns out they were right, but things didn’t go according to plan. Now in the present day, Victor’s just been released from jail, and he’s out for vengeance at any cost.

Vicious took me completely by surprise. I’ve read The Archived by the same author (under the name Victoria Schwab), but that honestly didn’t prepare me for how awesome this book was going to be. With just the right balance between character development and action, this novel was exceptional.

Probably the best thing about this book was Schwab’s grim characterization. The book’s epigraph, by Joseph Brodsky, really sets the stage: “Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse.” Because even though Victor is the protagonist of Vicious, he’s not necessarily the “good guy” at all. It’s simply that between him and Eli, Victor is the more rational, sane man. I really loved that these characters didn’t take on traditional black vs. white roles; Victor, Eli, and the other EOs have a lot more subtlety and nuance to them, which gave this book a lot more maturity and complexity.

The characters, their interactions, their motivations, and their actions were my favorite part of Vicious. I could describe at length how impressed and blown away I was by Schwab’s depth of insight into these people. The typical paranormal novel has characters, but this book has people—fully developed, well-rounded, and multifaceted.

The story itself works well, presented in chapters that alternate between the present and various points in Victor/Eli’s past. There are four or five POV characters, and though all these perspectives do sound a bit the same, they’re nevertheless well-written.

But about three-fourths of the way into the book, I had something of a brain blast. Basically, Vicious is The Count of Monte Cristo with superheroes. Man is wrongfully imprisoned and allows hatred to consume him to the point where he’s dead to all other emotion, upon his release he seeks vengeance at whatever cost, manipulating those around him to achieve his end goal, and in the end he must learn to let go of his rage or die, his purpose completed. That last sentence? It applies equally to both Schwab and Dumas’s books.

Now, I’m not saying that V.E. Schwab intentionally derived her story from Dumas. I think the revenge plot is traditional enough that it wasn’t something the author did on purpose. But seeing that very distinct similarity did bring me out of the story, and I found Vicious a bit less enjoyable than I had before, since I was constantly being reminded how closely Victor’s journey resembled Edmond Dantès’s.

Even with the Dumas comparison, I still enjoyed this book a lot, and I think it has far more positive qualities than negative. Vicious is a smart, intricate superhero novel with unbelievably amazing characterization. That was enough to have me hooked, but with the added bonus of Schwab’s skillful prose, this book was really something fantastic.

Renae has written book reviews and other miscellany for Respiring Thoughts since 2012. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, Shakespeare, and procrastinating. She's currently working on an undergrad degree in English/Spanish lit in the Midwest. Connect with Renae on Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

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9 responses to “Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

  1. I’ve seen quite the hype floating around for this book and am glad that you enjoyed it! I read The Archived a while ago and while I didn’t love it, it was an enjoyable read. I’m curious about what else Schwab has to offer. I like this idea that she’s playing with characters with different layers, and greater depth! That’s always a positive sign for me. Great review, Renae!
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    • Renae

      This is one of those occasions where they hype is deserved. I’m generally pretty allergic to hype, to the point where I’ll refuse to read a book simply because it’s popular. But since a friend of mine pushed this on me, I read it. And was definitely surprised. Both books by Schwab have been very well-written and unique, which is great.

  2. I haven’t read anything by Schwab yet. I do want to read The Archived for sure, but this also sounds fantastic! I’m not sure I’m quite a fan of superhero stories in general, but I do love stories featuring complex characters where there’s not a clear “good guy.” It sounds like Schwab has quite the handle on complex characterization – and, with such a positive review from you, I will certainly be giving this one a try!
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    • Renae

      Yeah, superheroes aren’t my go-to people either, but these aren’t “superheroes” in the way of Batman or the Avengers, really. They’re just the average people who gain some powers and then go a little crazy with the possibilities. It’s like a dark, gritty type story. Kind of like the film, Chronicle, actually. But yes. Very much recommended either way.

  3. I had never heard of this. But it sounds different from what I’ve been reading, which is always nice. I’ve never read The Count of Monte Cristo either. Should I?! Thinking I should. It’s a new goal of mine to incorporate classics into my reading. Miss reading them school since I’ve graduated several years ago. So I’m like why not read them for fun.
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  4. I downloaded this ahilw back without really knowing what it was. I like how dark this one sounds (especially that epigraph, totally sets the mood). I’ve never read a superhero type novel so I’m down! 🙂

    • Renae

      I’m not sure I’ve read any other superhero-type book either, but if there are more out there like Vicious, sign me up!

  5. This book caught me by surprise too (even though I still need to read The Archived) – I wasn’t expecting such a dark, twisted tale…especially one that would bring all the feels as this one did. My favorite bit was the characterization too; the characters are shades of grey, there is no black and white here. I think that’s what makes it so unique. Now I’ve owned The Count of Monte Cristo for years but have yet to read it (…I know, I know >.<) BUT the film version with Jim Caviezel and Richard Harris is one of my favorite films ever (so really I have NO excuse) but I definitely see the similarities you speak of – even though I'm sure they're more evident in the book version. Anyways, I'm glad you enjoyed this one too, and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on it ^^
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