This book had been sitting on my shelves for years before I finally read it for a bookclub I formed with some coworkers. Someone else in the club chose the book, and I’m glad she did because otherwise it’d still be sitting on my shelves unread, and I wouldn’t have known how great a story it is. It’s one of the best I’ve read so far this year.
Villains, book 1
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? (Goodreads)
“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”
This is the first book I’ve read by Schwab, and I’m impressed. I didn’t expect to be quickly hooked on it, but I was and I immensely enjoyed reading it. Not only was it entertaining (despite the horrible things the characters get up to), it also touches on topics that I’m always curious about and love to see explored in stories, like playing with our assumptions of good and bad and throwing in lots of grey areas; tackling what makes a person a human/a monster, what motivates a person to commit monstrous acts; and showing how power can corrupt a person. I enjoyed seeing how Vicious uses the characters to play with these topics.
I was interested in the plot too, of course, but I was more drawn to the characters, namely Victor, since we spend the most time reading from his perspective. I get the impression that he was sociopath before experiencing his near-death experiment that enabled him to gain extraordinary abilities. I liked how he and Eli differ. They are obviously foils of each other and neither is a good person, but Victor accepts that of himself while Eli tries to find excuses to obscure the truth. Although I’m satisfied having read this book and am not very enthused to read the next in its series (I keep thinking of it as a standalone novel), I wouldn’t mind reading Vengeful if it gives more details about Eli’s past. He’s more of a mystery than Victor despite his predictable actions.
Victor didn’t immediately appeal to me but by the end of the book, he was my favorite character. I like how the story ends — that Victor tricks Eli and is able to get his revenge. (This is probably the only revenge story I’ll ever like, btw.) I was rooting for him the entire time (which I guess is expected). Ten years passed since the boys were in college, but of the two, only Victor seems to have matured. Of course, because of his ability, Eli doesn’t physically grow at a normal pace, but I expected him to have mentally and emotionally matured, to become like a 30-year-old stuck in a 20-year-old’s body or something. But that’s not the impression I got. Eli 10 years later was the same as the Eli in college, except he’s unable to hide his dark side as well as he used to. (I really would like his backstory.)
The side characters were interesting as well and so too the concept of how to get extraordinary abilities, which I think helps to make the story believable as being set in the “real world.” I do wonder why all the EOs seem to be drawn to the same city…
Anyway, it was a good read that I really enjoyed. I’m sure I’ll probably reread it one day and might even read the second book to find out more about Eli and to see what ideas are explored there.
I’ve seen this labelled as an adult book, and I’d agree it is, but I think it would also appeal to the older end of the YA audience as well.
Overall: ★★★★☆ ½
A good read that tackles how gaining power can corrupt a person. It has a slow build, but it’s worth sticking with it.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Because I liked it that much. Plus the cover designs for it, both the U.S. and U.K. covers, are great. (I have the U.K. cover because I like that one more.)
I kept thinking of Noelle Stevenson’s YA fantasy graphic novel Nimona as I reviewed this. Although the two are different in tone, they share some similarities: friends become enemies, upends our assumption of who’s good or bad (Vicious is all grey while Nimona is more black and white); subverts the hero trope.
So although Nimona is clearly YA and Vicious more sits on the fence between adult and YA, I’d recommend Nimona if you’ve read Vicious and want something fun.
Quotes from the book:
“The moments that define lives aren’t always obvious.”