In 2015 I was introduced to V.E. Schwab through her book A Darker Shade of Magic, which I devoured and then a year later was pleasantly surprised to find out it was the start of a trilogy. Each time I chatted with the booksellers at my favorite bookstore and ADSoM came up they always asked if I had read Vicious. I kept admitting that I hadn’t and they would always chime back about how good it is. This year for our family holiday book exchange I put Vicious on my list of desired books and got it. I’m happy to report that it lived up to the hype the booksellers had given it.
Victor Vale is highly intelligent, deeply bitter towards his parents, perhaps a little broken, and a senior in college starting work on his thesis. Eli Cardale has been his roommate a friend since the start of sophomore year. Eli is also highly intelligent, bitter towards his parents, perhaps a little broken but with faith in God. The two find kinship and a bit of a rivalry with each other. Both at the top of their class they try to best each other to claim the highest spot. Victor’s thesis will be about adrenaline, it’s physical and emotional inducers and consequences, things like fight or flight. Eli takes a less traditional route and wants to explore the possibility of ExtraOrdinary people. In another world setting perhaps the term “mutant” or “superhero” might be applied but Schwab uses the term ExtraOrdinary or EO.
Victor and Eli’s research collide when they realize that near death experiences, and the adrenaline involved, are the one common factor among potential EOs. Being privileged, young, and heady with their own brilliance, they move beyond the theoretical and decide that instead of just looking for people who fit the parameters, they would attempt near death experiences to try again become EOs themselves. Both succeed through different means, each with completely different powers and a deep hatred for the other.
Vicious alternates between past and present. Spinning out the origin story along with the current man hunt as Victor and Eli, each with their own EO assistant, search for the other to kill their nemesis. Eli, convinced his power is a gift from God, has been on a personal holy crusade to eradicate every other EO. Victor out of prison after ten years has only one thought, to kill Eli. Caught up in the archenemies’ schemes are the EO assistants, sisters on opposite sides of a war, Sydney and Serena.
I greatly enjoyed Vicious. I liked how it explored the theme of what makes a person a hero verses a villain, good or evil. Schwab also examined what happens when you give someone power and remove their fear, and how that affects all their actions. Much like the Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, Schwab has created complex characters that I quickly started to sympathize with and worry about how this is all going to end once Victor and Eli finally face each other. After having read these four books by her, I am eagerly curious to find out what she has coming out next and may check out her YA writing under the name Victoria Schwab.