Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

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5 out of 5 ruthless stars

Of all Schwab’s books, this was the one I was least intrigued by. Then I read The Archived, and kinda changed my mind a little. I knew I wanted to read more of her stuff – and I just finished This Savage Song and was totally blown away. I didn’t want to start the Shades of London series till I had the third one, so I thought I’d crack this one open.

Holy crap.

I fell down into the rabbithole of the story right away. This happens every time I read one of her books. I also have the same trouble figuring out how to review it without spoiling it. Though the blurb mentions superpowers being an aspect of the story, it doesn’t say what each person has or how they got them, and it’s important to the story, and also speaks to the characters themselves. But I don’t want to take away that first discovery…. What I will say is that this very much reads as a modern myth. It also takes from some modern movies, but I don’t want to spoil it…. though this felt very original and Schwab made these elements her own, I did see the possible inspirations behind it.

Victor and Eli, two genius level med students with questionable morals manage to turn themselves into superheroes. They are both selfish, arrogant, insecure assholes. Dangerous combination for a superhero. Or, are they heroes? Victor winds up in prison, mostly thanks to his best buddy. While Victor pines and plans in prison, Eli, who along with the selfish, insecure, arrogant asshole thing is also a zealot. He thinks he’s God’s answer to wiping out the other humans with extraordinary powers.

After 10 years in prison, Victor decides he’s waited long enough and…. self-releases. He also liberated his cellmate, Mitch Turner. (No relation.) Not gifted with powers, Mitch has more human abilities – he’s physically huge and strong, and is an expert hacker. He also believes he’s cursed. He’s never killed anyone, but bodies seem to pile up around him. His physical appearance, the tattoos, scars on his knuckles from boxing, are against him, and he kept getting put in prison. He decided to become a criminal, I mean, he may as well, since he kept getting put away anyways. In an interesting twist of fate, or an incredibly convenient plot point, as Victor and Mitch are heading towards Eli’s possible location, they come across a child who’s had a run in with Eli.

Everybody in this is incredibly twisted. Even Sydney, the 12 year old girl who ends up in Victor’s cadre. Mitch is the only really nice person. It’s funny when you read a book like this and you start rooting for one side – you kinda loose sight of how fucked up everyone is. I loved the way Schwab laid out the story. Imagine you are looking at a scene playing out on a round stage. You only see what is directly in front of you, so  you take a side and you pick your villain. Then the stage rotates and you see the other side of things as it slowly turns and you see everyone in a totally different light. I was convinced that one of the protags was the bad guy, and then I saw the other side and was like… damn. You also twisted.

The characters and the pacing and action in this is amazing. First of all, I love revenge stories, and that’s the backbone of this. And there’s more than one level of revenge. We also have a sister duo that has become equally twisted. I kinda wanna mention Serena, because even though I hated her, I also found she was one of the most interesting characters. Her power is really game-changing and causes serious problems. She was such a great obstacle.

The main problem with this is that the diversity quotient doesn’t even exist. Again, there is no description of skin color, just like in This Savage Song, and so of course, most of us will populate it with white people. Schwab was recently called to task for this, and of course, there is no response to “why are there no people of color, differently abled or LGBTQ people in your stories” that is satisfactory. Then some incredibly misguided person made a video “defending” Schwab that was insulting and racist and fatally misinformed (basically saying that diversity made people feel bad about themselves.) This is wrong. And stupid. And actually inspired the Diverseathon. I was glad that Schwab immediately informed this person she did not agree with a single thing they said – I also hope it made her think about how she populates her stories, and we’ll see more diversity from her in the future. Again – not defending the lack of diversity. She needs to expand her characters and stories.

Other than that, I totally loved this book.

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