"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.

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