September 23, 2013

Early Book Review: Vicious

Title:  Vicious
Author:  V. E. Schwab
Length:  364 pages
Publisher:  TOR Books
On-Sale Date:  September 24, 2013
Format:  ARC paperback

Eli Ever and Victor Vale meet in college.  They are both brilliantly clever and curious kindred spirits, but everything changes when Eli’s thesis gets out of hand.  Eli chooses to study ExtraOrdinaries – people with superhuman abilities – and when the boys learn how to create an EO, they can’t help but try their hand at becoming one.  Victor and Eli obsess about nothing else, and then everything goes horribly wrong.
Ten years later, Victor and Eli are as far away from friendship as two people can be.  After all, it was Eli who landed Victor in prison.  Ten years is a long time; time for Victor to plan his revenge, and time for Eli to keep himself … busy.  Ever since Eli and Victor’s unfortunate falling out, Eli has been repulsed by the unnaturalness of EOs, and he has made it his mission to eliminate them all.
ExtraOrdinaries are not heroes.  Or villains.  Or lucky.  Or cursed.  They have been given a second chance … and they are fighting for their lives.
Now, Victor is coming for Eli, but Eli is not alone.
Can Victor stop Eli?

Vicious was wonderfully horrifying.

There were no true superheroes or villains in Vicious.  Every character held their own brand of darkness, some more twisted than others, just as every character tried their hand at being good.
No one was inhuman.  V. E. Schwab was very clear on making that point.  Not one character was truly, completely evil.

Victor Vale was not good or innocent or loving, but he was right and safer than his former friend.  I was surprised to learn that despite his questionable choices and dangerous actions, Victor was likeable, and he was a character I would miss if something bad happened.  His quirks had not changed from the time he was a student – before EOs and prison and Eli.  Regardless of all the strikes against him, Victor was a decent ally who cared about his accomplices.  Victor was someone who could hurt you, but he only really wanted to hurt Eli.  He was not a victim.  Victor’s crimes began as mistakes, and he did not deserve to lose everything.

Victor wanted Eli.  He wanted his friendship before he wanted his death, but now he was focused solely on ending Eli Ever’s existence.

Eli was intriguing.  You never really learned who Eli was before he became ExtraOrdinary, and his secrecy and all-consuming interest in EOs was enticing.  Eli had an appeal that was impossible not to be drawn to.  It was what lurked past the handsome, charming exterior that interested Victor.  Victor was the first to see something in Eli – something dark – and Eli’s own opinion of himself was wrong – distorted.  It seemed like Eli was in the right and he felt like the character you should like, and should be rooting for, but there was something off-putting about him that would make a reader hesitant to be on his side.

Victor and Eli had no idea how much they influenced each other.  In college, Eli fascinated Victor, and Victor wanted to be a step ahead of the boy who got everything – he wanted to be better.  When Eli became an EO, Victor did not think of the consequences in following the same path.  Now, ten years later, it was clear that Victor and Eli had shaped each other into what they were today:  killers, purposeful, and ExtraOrdinary.

Both men were similar.  They were strong-willed, and never explained themselves.  Victor and Eli would do anything – use anyone – if it gave them an advantage over their enemy.  They didn’t mind ­– liked – getting their hands dirty, and they saw killing as a necessity.  But in their similarities there were also differences, because Victor did not believe in God or a greater good, and Eli believed that ExtraOrdinaries should be removed.

Eli was not righteous, and Victor was not innocent.  However, Eli had every right to be mad, and Victor had every right to want revenge.  I didn’t like either of their choices, but I understood them.  Victor would stop at nothing to get to Eli and there was bound to be collateral as he executed his vendetta.  Victor and Eli gained unlikely accomplices, and these characters grew on you.  Mitch and Sydney and Serena; the bodyguard, the lost girl, and the girl you hated.

Nothing posed a true challenge for Eli, until her.  He could get away with anything, do anything, but now, she was the one in control, and he couldn’t get enough – couldn’t leave her.  Eli was the first person to fight Serena, say no, and not let her have everything she wanted.  And Serena saw right through Eli.  Her immediate attraction to Eli made sense, because she was sick of having power – of everyone saying yes.  You couldn’t know Serena until the second half of the book.  And she would surprise you.  She would keep surprising you.

I liked Sydney and Mitch; Victor and fate threw them together.  Mitch had the best intentions and could see what Victor’s vendetta would doubtlessly cause.  You wouldn’t think that Victor was a character who instilled unwavering loyalty, but Mitch stood with him.  Mitch and Sydney were incredible assets.  Sydney unexpectedly fell onto Victor’s side after Eli tried to have her killed, and she proved to be a formidable player and stronger than her twelve years would have you believe.

I found that I liked not knowing whose side I wanted to be on.  Victor and Eli were not easy to like or dislike, because beneath the anger and cruelty lay good intentions and other redeeming qualities.

I liked finding things out, like truths and stories, in little pieces.  And I liked being kept in the dark because the answers, when exposed, had a greater impact.  We wouldn’t have gotten the same story if it were told any other way.  It worked very well, and made the story even more gripping.

In the end, Victor and Eli were just boys playing at death, and life, and revenge.  In the end, they were both wrong.

Premise:  5/5
Plot:  4/5
Writing:  4.5/5
Characters:  5/5
Overall:  5/5

Disclosure:  I picked up an advanced copy at Book Expo America 2013.  This did not influence my review in any way.