My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Victor met Eli in college. They started off as roommates but soon Victor saw that Eli was much more than he had expected. A brilliant young man, charismatic and talented, Eli seemed to disguise another side of himself, a hidden identity, a darker side. They quickly became best friends. When their college thesis projects are announced, Victor and Eli get immersed into the mystical world of ExtraOrdinary powers.
Ten years forward, Victor is fresh out of prison and on the hunt. His only goal is to find Eli and kill him.
For anyone vaguely familiar with the most popular young adult BookTubers, Vicious is a novel that gained much popularity a few years ago and V.E. Schwab is a beloved mostly YA author who has received much praise and recognition. Vicious is Schwab’s first adult novel and tells the story of two anti-heroes, two villains, exploring their turbulent relationship. This novel was a Goodreads Choice Award nominee for Best Fantasy novel in 2013 and has captivated the reading population of YA and adult fiction alike by utilising the fun and action-packed world of comics and translating it into a novel format.
Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.
The entertainment factor of Vicious lies heavily on the idea of creating a world much like our own, mundane reality where heroes or rather villains with superpowers exist. Victor is a protagonist with questionable motives. A bright and resourceful student with high expectations of himself, he finds a friend and research partner in Eli who appears to have to opposing sides to his personality. That of a charming, brilliant and handsome young man contrasting a wicked and cryptic soul. Together they set out to discover the secret behind the genesis of ExtraOrdinary people with powers. While the idea behind the plot may sound innovative and original, there is a very specific background from which Schwab draws. In this novel, two villains are out for revenge. And yes, the idea that there is no good guy in the story sounds appealing and could lead to intense storytelling. But, Schwab provides Victor, a character who boils down to being an overachieving, overzealous man, jealous of his more successful roommate. Eli himself can be easily reduced down to a quickly drawn character who is conveniently hiding behind a curtain of mystery and bases his whole misdemeanour on false religious beliefs. Nothing extraordinary about our main characters still manages to entertain and tell a fun story.
When no one understands, that’s usually a good sign that you’re wrong.
The story is accentuated by the heavy, grey atmosphere Schwab beautifully induces. It’s as if the world has tuned down to a sadder, more desperate climate where feverish desires and wicked games dominate human behaviour. And then we get a story like X-men meets Marvel in a tropy plot of choosing sides between Victor’s desire for revenge and Eli’s mission to purge the world from evil. Victor joins forces with a few individuals, including a young girl with extraordinary powers – as is customary in these cases – and Eli forms an alliance in the true spirit of Jesse and James we know and hate from Pokemon. And, although the book makes a dynamic beginning stating that it’s about to do something different, something unique, unfortunately the whole thing blows over into a much more mediocre finale that leaves much potential wasted.
He wanted to care, he wanted to care so badly, but there was this gap between what he felt and what he wanted to feel, a space where something important had been carved out.
Again, the strength of Schwab’s Vicious lies in the fantastic idea to make a novel out of a story written for comic books. In fact, Schwab embraces the genre mix and builds on its strengths to the point where, while reading this novel, it’s impossible not to see the dialogues jumping out as cloud bubbles and fantasize about the actions of the characters turned into small squares which, when read from left to right, tell a story. Schwab was able to conceptualise an interesting interpretation of one literary means to another but her idea lacked in execution. Simply put, it wasn’t the most amazing book that a story like that has the potential to be. Consequently, while it may attract and fully captivate younger readers, the result might be different with older ones. Moreover, although it does contain some mature language and scenes that do not comply with YA standards, this story is suitable in every respect for older adolescents too. Even the size of the hardcover from Tor is small in dimensions as most novels intended for younger readers, although I cannot say the same about its price.
The absence of pain led to an absence of fear, and the absence of fear led to a disregard for consequence.
Overall, this is a fun and fast-paced little story with a dark undertone. It offers an enjoyable and short reading experience that allows the reader to successfully escape from the dull reality for a few hours into the world of heroes and villains.
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