Vicious – V. E. Schwab

October 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Vicious Cover Art

Vicious by V. E. Schwab. Love this cover art!

Vicious is the story of Eli and Victor, two young men who become obsessed with the concept of ExtraOrdinaries (Eos) – people with superhuman abilities. For his final thesis, star pupil Eli decides to research the possibility that the existence of EOs is not only legitimate, but traceable. Burning with jealousy that his best friend chose such an intriguing concept, Victor disbands his own work to work alongside Eli. Together, the prodigious students are able to discover what it takes to become an EO…and then, to replicate it.
With the dangerous zeal of the obsessed, Eli and Victor undertake the transition from ordinary humans to EOs. Their success, however, has come at a cost: the life of Eli’s girlfriend, Angie.
When grief shatters the last remnants of his true humanity, Eli pits himself against the entire community of EOs. Convinced that EOs are abominations, he is determined to track and kill each and every one of them for their crime against humanity.
Sent to prison for Angie’s death, Victor is released ten years after his transition. Knowing Eli as he does, and understanding his capacity for darkness, Victor accepts that he must be the one to stop him.
One EO pitted against another, the odds should be fairly even. But they’re not, and it comes down to one small fact: Eli can no longer be killed.

Hours passed in blinks as the two let it sink in, what that meant, what they had done. It was extraordinary.
It was ExtraOrdinary.
Eli rubbed his thumb over the fresh skin of his palm, but Victor was the first to speak, and when he did, it was with an eloquence and composure perfectly befitting the situation.
“Holy shit.”

Vicious fits in perfectly with the New Adult genre, which is currently lacking in content. Said to fill the gap between YA and adult fiction, the New Adult genre is set to explore life at university, the stress of independence and self-sufficiency and the complexity of adult relationships. Vicious ticks all of these boxes, making it an excellent addition to the ranks of New Adult fiction.
I love books with a university setting. Although I probably shouldn’t admit this in such a public forum, I didn’t find it too difficult to identify with the way that Eli and Victor became obsessed with their research. Vicious explores the stresses and pressures of university life in its fullness, including the jealousy and intensity of friendships formed over abstract and obscure research. When a pair or group of like-minded, highly intelligent people collaborate to produce something great, and commitment levels, ability and goals begin to oscillate, the effect on the individuals involved is profound. Obsession, it could be argued, is an academic disease, and Eli and Victor are at its mercy.   For me, Vicious recalls that same highly intellectual, all-encompassing obsession that Donna Tartt depicted in her prolific novel, The Secret History. Incidentally, The Secret History is my favourite book, so it’s no wonder I enjoyed Vicious so much.

Vicious trading cards. I'm dying to get my hands on some (Vicious pun...)

Vicious trading cards. You might say I’m dying to get my hands on some…ha. 

Rather than seeking a definition of a hero, Vicious asks, what constitutes a villain? Is someone who opposes good automatically a villain? If you find yourself the bearer of enormous power, is it your responsibility to use it, or can you allow it to lie dormant? If you have the capacity to do good, and do not, does that make you a bad person? What if you have the capacity to stop good?
Eli and Victor’s respective powers throw an additional spanner into the philosophical works. Where Eli’s powers affect only himself, Victor has the capacity to force his will on others. Eli becomes arguably more evil in intent, but Victor’s actions are more horrifying. Even their personalities call these definitions into question: is Victor evil, just because he is “dark”? Eli certainly isn’t good, despite being a “nice” person (and a religious one…read into that what you will…).
In Vicious, the lines of good and evil begin to blur. Victor and Eli are at once the same and opposite, and the way that Schwab spins the story around their changing lives is fascinating.

If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain? He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that. 

The single thing that irked me about Vicious is the way that story constantly jumps back and forth between several time periods. I’m all for a non-linear narrative, but I don’t think that the book is long enough to justify the jumps from ten years ago to the present, to a few days before, to five years ago, to two hours ago. Ultimately, Schwab manages to use it to her advantage, but it’s a bit hard to adjust to at first. Although, if that’s the only gripe I have about the novel, we’re doing pretty well.

Vicious is hellishly good.  I loved the darkness in the story, and it was refreshing to read a book set at university. I was fascinated by the concept of the EOs, and the fact that they are created and not born. I only wish that this book had been longer, but I can content myself with the possibility that there might be a sequel in the works. Certainly, the end of the novel indicated that there’s more to come. Surely, Victor and Eli’s enmity has not been exhausted? Eli can’t die, for God’s sake, Victor’s going to have to try harder!

“You can’t kill me, Victor,” Eli said. “You know that.”
Victor’s smile widened as he buried his knife between Eli’s ribs.
“I know,” he said loudly. He had to speak up over the screams. “But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.” 

Vicious recalls elements of The Secret History, the X-Men and noir-style comics. It’s a world I want to know more about, and Schwab is an author whose work I want to see expand into the adult genre. Vicious is published by Tor, so if my review doesn’t give you the confidence to pick this book up, that small fact should! As usual, if you’d like a copy of Vicious, call Pulp Fiction in Brisbane on (07) 3236-2750.

Victoria Schwab has a WordPress blog, which you can find here.
Like The Novelettes on Facebook here. If you have any suggestions for books to review, leave me a comment below.

What did you think of Vicious? Will you grab a copy, now that you’ve read my review?



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