Book Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab (Yes, I know I am late to the party.)

This is what happens when bad people get superpowers.

Victor Vale and Eli Cardale were friends and roommates back in college. Together, they discovered how to grant themselves superpowers.

Eli thinks Extra Ordinaries (EOs), the term used for super powered individuals in Eli’s thesis and the news media of the day, are wrong. He starts to hunt down other EOs to kill them. Victor is out to stop Eli because he finally wants to see Eli fall. In Victor’s mind, if Eli is the hero, he must be the villain. “I can live with that,” Victor thinks. Victor is fueled by pride and jealousy and the idea that he’s “no fucking sidekick.” Others, both regular and Extra Ordinary, are dragged into the battle, leading to a conclusion that is complex, exciting, and pretty damn entertaining.

I gave this book five stars. It’s a fresh take on the superhero idea, at least to me, and Schwab’s use of flashbacks and time lines is masterful. One piece of advice given to those trying to be writers is never use flashbacks. Another piece of advice is rules are meant to be broken if you understand the rule enough to break it correctly. Schwab doesn’t break the flashback rule, she vaporizes it, as if nuclear vision is her own superpower. The story is happening, and there are jumps to show why the story is happening, how different characters meet, and events leading up to now, with no confusion about why something is happening. I imagine the story could have been told in a linear fashion, and still been good, but it would have lost a lot in the areas of pacing and suspense.

There are multiple POVs, which I enjoyed. The main POV is Victor, with a lot of Eli thrown in, but others are used to add flavor and fill in pieces of the puzzle. There is never any confusion about whose head we are in.

Victor Vale is possibly one of my favorite characters I’ve read in a long time. Eli is bad and delusional, but Victor is worse. He’s self-centered and manipulative, but I like him. He accepted his role as villain, and he reveled in it. As other characters get drawn into the feud, they become worse in varying degrees, although some do try to redeem themselves. As another character, Mitch – who is almost angelic compared to others – observes, “There are no good men in this game.”

Do yourself a favor and read “Vicious.” It’s a good story, a good science fiction story (I think) and an education in story craft.

Oh! One more thing I almost forgot to mention. There’s a bit of an Easter egg. At one point, Eli mentions that he used to try to explain himself to the EO he was about to execute. Yes, he used to monologue. I think this is a nod to Schwab’s “Warm Up,” a short story detailing events that led to Eli giving up on his monologuing ways. (From my understanding, “Warm Up” is now included in a repackaging of “Vicious.”)

This review was also posted on Amazon and Goodreads. I’d appreciate it if you would check them out and leave a rating. Open discussion and constructive criticism are always welcome.

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