Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: Fiction, fantasy
Where I got the book: I won this book through a giveaway hosted on Instagram and am reviewing this on my own initiative.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: The novel alternates between a background story set ten years ago and present events. Ten years ago, Victor and Eli were inseparable best friends in college – they were opposites in many ways, but both were brilliant students. Fascinated by the rumored existence of EOs (ExtraOrdinaries), Eli wants to find out how some people seem to possess so-called extraordinary abilities. He proposes that under the right conditions, which requires a near-death experience, such extraordinary abilities – or superpowers if you will – can arise in a person. Victor is the one to suggest that they test this hypothesis by using themselves as subjects. Although they both come out on the other side in possession of their own unique abilities, a tragedy lies in the wake of their dangerous research, and Victor ends up in jail because of Eli. In the present, Victor is an escaped convict determined to track down his old friend (now foe) in order to get his long-awaited revenge. Accompanied by one of his cellmates and a teenage girl with an unsettling ability, he sets out to destroy Eli in a final battle.
“Life is about compromises. Or did you think because you put yourself in God’s hands that He would make you all you were and more?”
– Vicious, V.E. Schwab
I was so lucky to win a copy of this book in a giveaway on Instagram, where I could choose any of Schwab’s books. I went for “Vicious” mostly because it was categorized as Adult/New Adult, but also because, well – who doesn’t love a good story about superpowers? I was really curious to see how a concept and setting that to me sounded a lot like a movie would work in a book. I went into it blind, not knowing anything apart from the Goodreads synopsis, and in the back of my head I did fear it would contain flashy over-the-top and overused superpowers, such as the ability to fly or heat vision or whatever X-Men inspired stuff, combined with lots of epic action scenes, and that the end result would be a bit lame simply because it wouldn’t work. However, after a bit of a slow start I was pleased to find myself hooked and enjoying it much more than I expected. A lot of effort has obviously gone into crafting a believable universe where these EOs exist, and the way people end up this way, as well as what factors determine their powers, has an original twist. The jumps between the past and present are also excellently executed, and it’s never hard to keep up with the plot or pick up again where one story has left off.
None of the main characters, Eli and Victor, are exactly of the loveable kind – one believes he somehow is so blessed by God that it justifies his right to play God himself, and the other is so set on achieving his goal that he stops at nothing and doesn’t question his actions at all.They are definitely cold and detached characters who never actually regret their hideous actions, and while I know this might turn some readers off as there’s a risk you won’t be able to connect with them, they are this way with good reason. Their detachment is one of the direct consequences of gaining superpowers, the fact that they have lost, or unwillingly sacrificed, something crucial to their humanity in order to become powerful. That said, this is what eventually prevented me from giving this book a full rating. While I understand that they simply have become this way, the motivations behind certain actions were still unclear in cases where I kind of wish they would have been clearer. At times it seemed like both Eli and Victor did something just because their powers granted them the ability to simply do it, and not because it necessarily contributed anything useful their ultimate goal. In other words, they sometimes made little, often very violent, detours that didn’t serve as much apart from yet another demonstration of superpowers.
However, one thing that I loved was how the relationship between Victor and Eli was written. They are classic opposites, a typical “good vs. evil” setup almost waiting to happen, and yet it doesn’t turn out this way. Within their relationship there is both the deepest admiration and the most bitter jealousy. They are too intelligent and ambitious and arrogant for their own good, and they both already have a dark side lurking within them. Add to this unimaginable power and you get characters that are always morally grey, which in my opinion is something that stops them from becoming one “good guy” and one “bad guy”. Instead it creates a fine line between what’s perceived as good and what’s perceived as evil, and ultimately makes a novel where you can’t really tell who’s the hero and who’s the villain. It’s not even really fair to say that any clear-cut roles like these exist in this book.
All in all this is a straight-forward read about very complex things, whether it be complex relationships, complex plans, or the complex question of morals that follows the sudden gain of extraordinary abilities. This is actually the first of what I’m assuming will be two books, so I’d love to read the second book once it’s out!