Review: “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab


Release Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Series: Villains #1
Genre: Science Fiction, Superheroes


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?

In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.” (via Goodreads)


My Thoughts


Character development is one of the things Schwab is best at, and all those skills are on display in Vicious. In lesser hands, Victor and Eli would be bad guys who do bad things to bad people. It’s an old trope done to death. Schwab, however, imbues every character no matter how minor with heart and soul. Victor and Eli aren’t just villains, they’re people making very specific choices. They’re men, complicated, toxic, petty, and angry, but also thoughtful and aware. Neither were thrust on their paths by the hands of fate. Instead they set their own courses because they wanted to, because they could, because they liked it. Being EOs gives them an easy excuse to be as awful as they want, but even before their powers they weren’t especially pleasant people. Schwab pours nuance into each character, breaking them out of the trope mold and shaping them into something wholly unique. That delicate touch is what keeps the novel from becoming unrelentingly bleak.

Where other authors might take the easy way out, Schwab never does. She tortures the hell out of her cinnamon rolls and makes them better characters for it. If they get a happy ending, it’s because they worked for it. She tightens the vice on her characters from the first page, offers them a few outs only to deny them right as they accept, and pummels them until they think they have nothing left to give. And because of that, her stories are tight, taut, and tense. Trying to read Vicious at night right before bed was poor decision-making on my part. Every night I told myself I’d just read a few chapters, and every night I’d blow past that because I simply couldn’t put it down. “Just one more chapter,” became my personal mantra. And when I finally finished it, I was so obsessed I almost flipped back to the beginning to start again…

To read the rest of my review of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, head over to

Victor had initially wondered what it would take to recover his bedroom for a second time in a semester, but before he put any plans into motion, an odd thing happened. Eli began to… grow on him. He was precocious, and frighteningly charming, the kind of guy who got away with everything, thanks to good genes and quick wits. He was born for the sports teams and the clubs, but he surprised everyone, especially Victor, by showing no inclination whatsoever to join either. This small defiance of social norm earned him several notches in Victor’s estimation, and made him instantly more interesting.

But what fascinated Victor most was the fact that something about Eli was decidedly wrong. He was like one of those pictures full of small errors, the kind you could only pick out by searching the image from every angle, and even then, a few always slipped by. On the surface, Eli seemed perfectly normal, but now and then Victor would catch a crack, a sideways glance, a moment when his roommate’s face and his words, his look and his meaning, would not line up. Those fleeting slices fascinated Victor. It was like watching two people, one hiding in the other’s skin. And their skin was always too dry, on the verge of cracking and showing the color of the thing beneath.

Thanks to Tor Books for sending me a review copy.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.

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