I really liked A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, so I had high expectations for Vicious. I was not disappointed.
There is a lot of shifting between perspectives and timelines, but it’s all handled pretty well. There are 2 timelines: now and 10 years ago (both give or take a few days/hours). 10 years ago follows college students Victor and Eli who are both brilliant and very different, yet friends and roommates. They have to do senior thesis projects and Eli wants to see if he can artificially recreate supernatural powers in people. Now shows recently escaped convict Victor returning to town to find Eli. What happens now is of course directly connected to the events and people of 10 years ago. The narrative moves back and forth between time frames each starting near the beginning, and they conclude in roughly parallel fashion. This works really well for suspense. It’s clear pretty early on that Victor went to jail for murder and that he wants revenge on Eli, but the exact circumstances that resulted in those feelings are not revealed until late. Similarly, it’s hard to tell who’s really wrong and who’s right.
The characters, besides Victor and Eli, are also well presented. You gradually learn things about everyone, including Victor and Eli, but it’s the side characters who are the most interesting. Serena and Sydney are sisters, but one ends up with Victor and the other with Eli in the now timeline. Mitch is Victor’s cell-mate in prison, who tags along on the search for Eli. Each character is complex but not so much that it’s hard to decide whether to like them or not. For the record, Mitch is good guy, Serena is horrible, and Sydney is complicated (but she’s only about 10). I suspect this is how they are meant to be presented.
There are a handful of other characters, including Victor’s and Eli’s instructor, Professor Lyne, and 2 policemen, Officer Dane and Detective Snell. These characters are there enough to be interesting but we don’t get anything from their perspective.
There are a lot of descriptions of Vicious that invoke superheroes, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Super heroes typically don’t seek to be heroes, and Victor and Eli actively try to become EOs (ExtraOrdinaries). My other smallish complaint is that there is virtually none of Eli’s perspective in the book. It’s all from Victor, his allies, with only a few brief glimpses at Eli and his frenemy Serena. The reason this is a problem for me is that it makes the Eli-Victor dynamic one-sided. We know Victor’s thoughts and reasoning for what he does, so that he automatically looks better for it; but because we don’t know nearly as much about Eli, he automatically gets the bad guy role. This works well as a story, because I wanted Victor to win, but it’s a little disappointing in terms of character because Eli would have been a much more interesting villain that way.