Vicious by V.E. Schwab | Impossible Abilities, Morally Grey Characters, & A Hunt For Revenge

It’s always difficult to review an iconic title, even if I loved it, because what can I say that hasn’t been said a thousand times over? This was my first foray into V.E. Schwab’s writing, and I have to say I’m pissed it took me so long to experience one of her books. I’ll admit, the hype scared me. I was stupid.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
(Villains #1)
Hardcover | 393 pages | Purchased

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates – brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognised 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 arch-nemeses have set a course for revenge – but who will be left alive at the end?

This book literally starts off in a cemetery with two of our main characters digging up a dead body. Yup, I’m not even kidding. It that doesn’t pull you in immediately, I don’t know what will.

The story alternates between the present day and the events that happened a decade ago that caused Victor Vale’s arrest. What started out as two college seniors taking their thesis too far ended up as a hunt for revenge. But while Victor was arrested and left to rot in a cell of ten years, Eli Ever has spent the last decade hunting down people with impossible abilities – EOs – and killing them, claiming that they are a crime against nature.

The entire plot was just fascinating, and I struggled to put it down. Despite being an adult book – and science fiction at that – it was pretty easy and quick to read, and I think that’s a testament to Schwab’s writing. This book very much deals with the fine line between being a villain and a hero, and it also shows the dangers of self-righteousness. Neither of these characters are particularly good people, but there were little instances that prove nobody is truly good or truly evil.

Victor Vale is such an interesting character. An EO himself, his ability is quite terrifying. Victor himself, however, isn’t necessarily a bad person, like I said before. Ten years in prison has helped him hone his anger into plans for revenge, but he didn’t completely lose his humanity along the way. The fact is, he’s still human enough to save a young girl from a bullet wound and take care of her afterwards. I love morally grey characters, and Victor Vale is about as grey as they come.

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 labelled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.

It isn’t until about halfway through the book that we begin getting chapters from Eli’s perspective. I definitely appreciated these additions, if only because it gave greater insight into the way his mind works. Eli genuinely believes he’s doing the work of God and that makes him pretty scary. People who believe with their very soul that they’re doing the right thing for the greater good can be dangerous, and Eli Ever is no exception.

Overall, this is a very character driven story, but the splits in the timeline stop it from feeling like a slow one. In all honesty, this book is a piece of literary genius. I’m so glad I can finally understand the V.E. Schwab hype and I can’ wait to explore more of her work!

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