Your Choice Read for the Quarterly Book Club’s Third Quarter Read!
Omgomgomgomgomgomgomg how I drool. Someone please get me a towel. I am so glad that this book is due tomorrow, because that totally pushed me to take a break from nonstop academic research, and to let myself be taken in by this story.
Where to begin?
There is so many good things to say about this book, I don’t know where to start. I guess, I should probably point out that my excitement over this book is coupled with a number of things–the fact that it’s an adult novel, the fact that it’s dark, the fact that compared to the only other series I’ve read by Schwab this one is so much more…
Okay, so that doesn’t make much much sense. Let me start again.
A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers. 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? In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.
So. Like many books for the Quarterly Book Club Quarterly Read, I usually haven’t actually read the blurb or the premise. I just go to the library and put everything on hold and see how many come in within the three months. Because of this method, I’ve become pretty overly ambitious–i.e. putting too many on hold and barely able to handle the reading load!–but also, because of this method, I get exposed to a whole different variety of fiction that I might not consider picking up normally. Vicious is one of those. It’s not because it’s not interesting (as my rating can attest, this is a very interesting book). It’s because while I have read The Archived, and intend to read the sequel, The Unbound because I did really enjoy the Archived, there was something missing. It was a good book, there were enthralling moments, and a plot line that really picks up at the end. So while I enjoyed all of that about the Archived, it wasn’t really enough to get me to pick up another book by Schwab anytime soon. Not because I’m not interested, but because I’m a little lazy, and I have a tbr list longer than my height (I’m short btw, but still). So, it’s a good thing that when I picked up Vicious, I had little to no expectations. And rarely does a plot grab my within the first 50 pages.
Do you know how much I love a story that just captures me right from the beginning?
I love it so much.
Vicious captured me right from the start, and trust me that’s no easy feat, not with the way Schwab told her story. Vicious is told from a number of perspectives. Firstly, it’s told from various character perspectives–in particular, the main characters, Victor, Eli, Sydney, Mitch, Serena. (Though, really, Sydney, Mitch, and Serena all play a slightly smaller role compared to Victor and Eli obviously.) Secondly, the timeline is alternating. It begins with “Last Night” but then it jumps back to “Ten Years Ago”, then to “Two Nights Ago” and later on in the book, “This Afternoon” and “Five Hours to Midnight” (This last one is only one example) so on, depending on the character, giving the overall story, I suppose a comic book effect–though, I don’t read many comic books, and haven’t read one for so long, that this style is both new and just, plain, ‘different’ to me. I’ve seen this style before, and most of the time, it gets confusing, and unnecessarily messy, but with Vicious it was nothing like that. With Vicious, there’s not one single moment when you think ‘I’m lost’ or ‘bloody hell that’s confusing’. In fact, Schwab does this so well, you will love the way she reveals the history through a series of complex flashbacks.
The way she reveals the whole plot–a complete web of interlacing ties and connections of both the physical and mental kind–via specifically choosing which parts of character’s history to reveal at various stages of the story act as layers. She layers them on top of each other, one at a time, until by the climax, you have a very clear picture of the characters, their motives, and the complex relationships tying each one together. And it’s this developing plot structure that had me in shivery, excited knots–because Schwab knows how to build the tension, how to pit one character against the other without making it seem like just children in the playground. These are children with big ambitions, big knives, and who aren’t children at all, but adults playing a dangerous game against each other. (Actually about this, I’ll talk more about it in the Characters section.)
At the same time, the overall plotline is very simple. It’s very straightforward–a basic story of two incredibly intelligent, incredibly ambitious young adults who were friends turned enemies because of their own ambitions. In many ways, the beginning of this plot is similar to the Social Network. But in this story, it begins with college kids and a college thesis idea about supernatural people called ‘ExtraOrdinary’, aka ‘EO’. How an EO exists is actually the thesis of one of the main characters, and because they’re friends, they help each other out until things go wrong, and the climax of this story takes that paranormal turn. It skyrockets.
The most significant part of this whole book is the relationship between Victor and Eli, it’s seeing that contrast between characters, and realising that in this story, there isn’t one single ‘good person’, just as there aren’t any ‘bad people’. Victor, is the featuring protagonist, but he is anything but ‘good’ and his is the ultimate antihero. Regardless of the simple plot, this book shines because of its characters, because of the writing, and most importantly, the raw emotions and character development that goes on between the characters..
The two main, most prominent characters in this book are Victor Vale and Eli Cardale, later known as Eli Ever. They were once roommates and friends, who eventually turned enemies. At first, Victor is seen a rather selfish, bored, uncaring, somewhat jealous person who can lie very well; while in contrast, Eli is the golden boy, with the great smile who can talk his way into anything, and who Victor was drawn to, because of the brightness that seemed to follow Eli around. So at first, you think Victor is going to be the ‘villain’ and Eli, ‘the Hero’, but as the story progresses, and more and more Eli and Victor’s personalities and histories are revealed, the more it becomes clear that the line between Hero and Villain is blurred by the concept of ‘in the name of the greater good’. I’m not going to tell you what powers/what happens to make them estranged because that would ruin it, but during their college days, the both of them get carried away with Eli’s thesis, and attempt experiments beyond the control of young adults. The consequences are severe, brought on by anger, jealousy, and the ambitions of foolish young adults, and it lands Victor in jail for ten years. They are like children, yet they are adults. More accurately, they’re young adults with great ambitions that make them so dangerous in the playground that no one else wants to join in their fight.
Victor. Oh Victor. At the beginning you were a person with a somewhat horrid personality, but I didn’t hate you. I liked your complexity. I liked the darkness in your heart, and I liked how between you and Eli, there is almost no distinction between who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’. I think Eli was worse than you though. Since you didn’t do things in the name of the greater good. You just followed your ambition, your goal: to kill Eli. Whereas Eli, Eli hid behind that self righteous shield and tried to play god. Indeed, Victor himself was no ‘pure’. He killed. He hurt. He tortured all in the name of getting his revenge. But he didn’t kill someone without a good reason. Well, as good enough a reason he would ascribe to someone. Usefulness was usually the key in this story–since after all, for both Victor and Eli, neither wanted to keep someone useless around. But between the pair, Victor is less cold about who he keeps and who he throws away.
Sydney actually doesn’t read like a thirteen year old. At the same time, it makes sense that she doesn’t because of what has happened to her recently (as of two nights ago in the story). She grew up in a short time, yet there is still a childish innocence to her. I liked her character. But at a lot of times, I wanted to scream at her, ‘don’t trust him!!!!!! Regardless of my own opinion of him’. And then there is Serena–with both Sydney and Serena, I won’t tell you their significance or who they’re aligned with–is a pretty solid character. But of all supporting characters, she’s probably the shallowest, and has the least amount of depth. Yet at the same time, there is so much to her character that wants for something she can never have. She is an interesting character that’s for sure.
Lastly, Mitch, I bring him in because he is a supporting character on Victor’s side, and I thought he was really cool. I like his character, and when it came to revealing his history, I really liked him.
This is set in a variety of places (depending on the chronological time period), but mostly, it’s focussed on the City of Merit for the last three days of the story (since the story is told currently over a period of about a day and a bit, with the rest of the story told in flashbacks accumulated over ten years). EOs are also considered dangerous in this story, they are something of a myth, of which most of the world don’t know about, and the police/federal bureaus will cover up any EO related incidence.
I was very surprised by the density of the writing. By dense, I mean, there are a lot of words on the page, and there are bigger paragraphs than I expected. The Archived was not like this. It was simpler, more YA. But as expected of a book that’s been shelved as Adult, the writing in Vicious is much more denser. More intense. More complex. And it actually required me to read every single word on the page. I usually read really fast, because paragraphs and words melt together. But in Vicious, it was like I didn’t want to miss out a single word out of fear I would miss out something important. I actually really revelled in this writing. I love the way Schwab uses her words to capture each character’s idiosyncratic speech and actions. There is so much depth to the writing. I drooled. (And this might also have been because compared to academic texts that are usually a little drier, Schwab’s writing was excellent.)
Should you read this? Well that depends. This book isn’t a romance. It’s not a superhero story either. It’s a dark, gorey, epic mental, physical, and moral battle between antihero and so-called hero. This isn’t a story about who is ‘good’, rather it’s a story about ‘who is the lesser evil?’ Is this a suggestive read? Yes, definitely.
[N.B] If I sound repetitive or nonsensical, my apologies! I’m just so tired right now from finishing the second half asap and writing the above which I hope sounds somewhat rational and cohesive lol.