Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Adult / Sci-Fi / Paranormal
Series: The Villains Trilogy
Synopsis: 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? (taken from Goodreads)
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that had me flying through the pages like a madman, eager to find out what happens. Vicious lives up to its title–a cunning and deliciously gritty tale of two brilliant college students whose ambitiousness changed them in ways unimaginable. The only way I can think of to perfectly describe the book is messed up.
In the words of Mitchell “Mitch” Turner, “There are no good men in this game.” The characters are complex and utterly insane. With the change of turning into EOs, they struggle with holding onto what little humanity they have left. They weren’t all innocent before the change though. Even at the beginning, we see glimpses of the darkness inside them. Both Victor and Eli are callous, apathetic, and self-driven. Both had entirely different goals and equally despicable ways of reaching them. Both were also incredibly fascinating to read about. You want to hate them for what they do and yet, you still can’t help but root for them.
The books alternates between the past and the present. Sounds confusing, but it really isn’t. The chapters are brief, the writing is simple, and it’s incredibly easy to keep up with the pace. Everything comes together neatly in the end. A disturbing but excellently crafted book guaranteed to have you questioning your own perspective on morality.
This portion of the review is a slightly more in-depth discussion of the book and will contain spoilers/rants/raves. Read at your own discretion.
I’m finding it difficult to organize my thoughts into something coherent because my mind is still reeling from the sheer brilliance of this book. I never ever write reviews the minute after I finish a book, especially when it’s a book I enjoyed. I like to set it aside for a while, so that I can sit on my thoughts once the high of reading it dies down, then I can avoid too much raving. But in this case, it’s very difficult not to rave.
You know what this book reminded me of? Death Note. Two ambitious and brilliant minds battling each other, except there wasn’t that much scheming (at least not on Eli’s part). The book is chock full of moral ambiguity, which made it nearly impossible to take sides. On one hand, you have Eli Cardale, whose girlfriend was killed by his best friend. He realizes that maybe trying to create EOs had been wrong, and he sets out to right his mistakes. Then you have Victor Vale, someone who constantly craves Eli’s attention, someone who sees the madness that lingers under Eli’s charm. He gets sent to jail by the one person he both cared for and hated, and is bent on having his revenge. It’s a constant battle between “Oh, Victor is right—wait, but Eli is right too…” and in the end, you can never really choose because both characters have complexities that go beyond the common definition of “right” and “wrong.”
I’m just going to drop a quote here:
“But these words people threw around – humans, monsters, heroes, villains – to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics. Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”
I am absolutely in love. Funnily enough, this book actually contained a pet peeve of mine: very short chapters. Most of the chapters lasted only about three to four pages? Normally, I would hate that. But I thought it worked in the story’s favor since we’re constantly hopping back and forth between different times and dates. And the brief glimpses we got of the past and the present made me curious enough that I was flying through the pages because I wanted to know what had happened and would happen.
Victor is such a fascinating and disturbing character. He wants to prove that he’s better than Eli but at the same time, he also wants Eli’s attention. And even when he hates Eli later on, during his attempts to kill Eli we see that he still revels in the fact that Eli’s attention was finally on him. Clearly, he isn’t a good person. But he also picks up Sydney and a stray dog, and it left me wondering whether Vic could truly care about others or if he merely kept people around because they were useful. Perhaps it was even a mix of both.
Eli, the genius whose thesis started this whole mishap. I enjoyed his character but I thought there was something lacking. Somehow, I wasn’t that convinced he was a religious nut. I don’t know, I just think it happened a little too quickly? Might be because we didn’t spend time in his head as much as we did in Victor’s, but one second he’s excited about his regeneration abilities and the next, he’s all “You’re the devil wearing my best friend’s skin” when he sees Victor. I think he needed a wee bit more development with that one.
“What gives you the right to play judge and jury and executioner?”
Eli rationalizes his actions with the belief that God had given him this power for a reason. Not uncommon in our world. He’s self-righteous and he thinks superior and still, I couldn’t bring myself to hate him. In his eyes, he was doing the right thing. Like I said, it’s all moral ambiguity. Two anti-heroes clashing together; one looking for vengeance, the other for a purpose. Both thinking they’re doing what they were supposed to do.
Victor and Eli’s relationship was the most intriguing thing of all. It was twisted and toxic, and I thoroughly enjoyed how Victor seemed to contradict himself whenever Eli was involved. Victor both liked and hated Eli, both wanted to impress him and wanted him dead. I loved the contrast between Eli’s religious beliefs and Victor’s logical ones. It was the simplest thing and yet, it led them both down very different paths. They were both so alike and so very different at the same time. And it leaves you thinking about what could have been, if things didn’t turn out the way they had. I love stories like those. Stories that show the grim reality of the world, the missed opportunities, the potential that could all go tumbling down simply because of one little mistake.
Then we have the other characters who got dragged into the mess. I adored them but I did feel that some of them weren’t as developed as I would have liked. Sydney and Dol were a charming pair. And Sydney’s development was both fantastic and kind of sad. She starts off as a confused and innocent child but all that slowly changes (in a span of days, mind you) because of Victor. Her development was certainly interesting to read about. Part of me wished that she could retain her innocence but yep, didn’t count on it. We also have Mitch! He was such a softie. A big, hulking guy cursed with bad luck, He’s seen as a your typical burly idiot, someone who could kill with one hand, but is actually terribly smart and has a knack for hacking. Oh, and he drinks chocolate milk. Who wouldn’t love him?
I loved Serena and I was actually pretty distressed when Victor killed her. I have a thing for manipulative characters. Serena was obviously one of them. Her interactions with Eli were so, so intriguing, and I wanted more of that. It was interesting to see Eli struggle with retaining control and constantly wondering if his wants were his own or if they were all Serena’s doing.
So yeah, you might have noticed that my rating is missing half a shell. Aside from my small issue with Eli, I had another minor issue toward the end. As much as I loved the pacing, the build-up, the tension and basically everything else… Victor and Eli’s meeting wasn’t as satisfying as I thought it’d be. I don’t know, I think I was hoping that their plan would go wrong? That maybe they wouldn’t end up meeting at the designated time and place but instead, bump into each other earlier (specifically the Three Crows Bar) and battle it out there. I would have loved to see their reactions, how they’d respond if they saw each other too early and realize that all their plans had gone to waste.
That said, I did think the ending made up for it. Eli finally got his karma. Schwab crafted it so perfectly, and I loved how the book circles back around; it started at the cemetery, and ended at the cemetery.
Vicious certainly makes you question a lot of things. What is good and what is evil? Do good and evil even exist or is it all a matter of perspective? Would a person be good because he believes he is? Or should that be based on what others believe them to be? I don’t know how many times I thought to myself, “Damn, this is fucked up” while reading because this book is really, really fucked up. And still, I enjoyed every second of it.
I was literally jumping for joy when I learned Schwab was writing a sequel (it’s called Vengeful and I’m so fucking ready for it). I can’t wait to dive back into this world and dig deeper into the minds of her twisted characters.