"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Book Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

It's been quite a while since I've done a book review on this blog, but then again, it's been quite a while since I've read a book as good as Vicious. When I first heard about it, it didn't sound like something I would be into. I've never really been one for the revenge plot, and often I usually shy away from traditional super hero lore. But, I have a lot of respect for the author, and when other people started reading (and loving) it, I decided to give it a try.

First, a basic plot overview: 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? 

Quite honestly, this book blew me away. It was violent, dark, and twisted, and the moral grey area is deliciously, well, grey. The plot swings back and forth in time, switching between the present moment and the events that took place when Victor and Eli were in college. This allows Schwab to slowly ratchet up the suspense with each successive chapter, while revealing key moments in the characters' pasts. 

“All Eli had to do was smile. All Victor had to do was lie. Both proved frighteningly effective.” 

The characters themselves are enigmas, and set against the comic-book-esque, black-and-white world of the book, they seem like utterly fascinating alien beings. I loved Victor's cold, calculating demeanor, and I loved trying and failing to figure out what he was going to do next. Eli is a golden boy with a cracked facade. He feels less developed than some of the other characters, his motivations clear but not as nuanced. Still, he is a good counterpoint to Victor, and just as frightening. My favorite character is Mitch, a hulk of a man who becomes Victor's ally in jail. Schwab plays with appearance vs reality, and many of her characters' true natures are not what you would perceive from a first impression.

The description of this book is a bit misleading in that it makes it seem as though the moral ambiguity is enough to make the reader unsure of whose side they should choose: Victor or Eli's. While the lines between right and wrong are blurred significantly, it is clear who we are meant to sympathize with. The real questions in this book arise from the fact that both characters have deep, irreparable flaws, and they are capable of both benevolence and evil.

“Because you don't think I'm a bad person," he said. "And I don't want to prove you wrong.” 

Despite a couple of places where I had to suspend my disbelief farther than I would have liked, Vicious quickly grew into its place as one of the best books I've read this year. Victoria Schwab's writing is addictive. It has the kind of mesmerizing quality that all the best books have, where you forget you are even reading words on a page. I went into this book with few, if any, expectations, and she surprised me with a tale of suspense, action, and crazy, messed up characters. Super hero fan or not, I highly recommend.

Oh! And look at the GORGEOUS cover for her next book, A Darker Shade of Magic! I could not be more excited!
For a synopsis, click here.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Quote of the Day: Departure

Today was my last day of classes as a college freshman. No matter how many times I say that to myself it still doesn't seem real. So much of my week has been taken up by the weight of everything I have to do before I leave (turn in my last few assignments, study for finals, do laundry, pack), that I haven't had time to think about what it means. Leaving for the summer. Moving out of my dorm room. And then I discovered this quote:

"Packing up. The nagging worry of departure. Lost keys, unwritten labels, tissue paper lying on the floor. I hate it all. Even now, when I have done so much of it, when I live, as the saying goes, in my boxes. Even today, when shutting drawers and flinging wide a hotel wardrobe or the impersonal shelves of a furnished villa is a methodical matter of routine, I am aware of sadness, of a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived. We have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. Nothing material, not a hair pin on a dressing table, not an empty bottle of aspirin tablets, not a handkerchief beneath a pillow, but something indefinable, a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood. This house sheltered us. We spoke, we loved within these walls. That was yesterday. Today we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again." - Dauphne du Maurier, Rebecca

To me, this quote captures everything I've been feeling and then some. You might think it silly to mourn leaving a place that I know I'll be returning to in three months, but live for two semesters in the confines of a dorm room, and it becomes a home. Of course that's not to say I'm not excited about my living arrangements for next year, but I've grown accustomed to the slamming of the front door to my residence hall (my room is the first door when you enter), and the view outside my window, and the random bits of paraphernalia I have pinned to my cork board. So there is a sadness in the fact that a few days from now, among the chaos that is finals week, I will also be slowly disassembling my room: getting rid of papers, cleaning out drawers, rolling up the rug that I so clearly remember picking out at Ikea last August.
There is something mutable, too, about a dorm room. There will always be the knowledge that it has been inhabited by so many college students before you, and so many more to come. Somewhere out there there are people, probably even a few on this campus, who have their own memories of my dorm room. I think that's why I love the idea of a place's ability to capture "a moment of our lives, a thought, a mood." When I leave this room, I will be leaving behind pieces of freshman year. A year of firsts, and friend-making, and movie-watching. And next year, this room will be a clean slate, its walls bare for someone else to pin their memories to.