A skillfully-handled, complex plot and a cast of equally complex characters make Vicious another 5-star book from V. E. Schwab.
I came to this book without knowing anything about the characters or plot and I believe that improved my experience. In my opinion, the official blurb gives far too much away and would make some of the earlier chapters less interesting. However, if you do want some background, you can read the blurb at the bottom of this review. Otherwise, just trust me: this is great.
I’ve been pondering what makes this book so good for a few days. I think it comes down to the interaction of two elements.
1. Plot. Vicious is a master-class in plotting. The chapters skip between events ten years ago, five years ago, a year ago, two weeks ago… You get the idea. However, this time-hopping is managed so skillfully, you never feel lost or disorientated. Moving about in this way means we gradually find out the background to present events and come to understand the characters’ motives. It gives us enough information to let us feel part of events, but leaves enough to discover to keep us turning the pages.
The story is just the right length with no flab. Every element is necessary to the narrative as a whole and you never feel the desire to skip ahead.
2. Characterization. There are no heroes in this book. Nearly all the characters have a dark side and are pulled in different directions by revenge, righteous zeal, friendship and the desire to survive. Victor (in particular) is fascinating: a not particularly likeable anti-hero you are happy to follow. But all the characters, even the “side-kicks” such as Mitch, are fully-rounded. It is this complexity which makes the characters so believable and grounds the supernatural events in a reality to which the reader can relate.
Like A Darker Shade of Magic, I highly recommend this book. If I was forced to choose between ADSOM and Vicious… I guess I’d choose ADSOM, but only because I loved the escapism of the alternate Londons (as a former Londoner, I have a soft spot for stories set there).
(And now, for those of you who want to read it, the blurb (beware! It contains SPOILERS)…
A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers. 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?)