Published: September 24, 2013 by Tor
Summary from Goodreads:
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?
This was my first ever Victoria Schwab book, and I'd gone in with high expectations for the writing, as everyone raves about how beautiful it is. I will say, I was not disappointed in that regard, but I was surprised. It's not beautiful in the way I expected it to be. It's not lyrical and poetic and bursting with these artsy metaphors. Instead, Schwab wields words like a paintbrush, gracefully filling our minds with vivid images and sucking us into the story & characters. And I just think it is so funny that everyone talks about the beauty of this book when there is so much stabbing and shooting and killing.
Another thing that really makes Vicious stand out is the unique execution of a tired premise. At its core, Vicious is about two college kids who gain super powers. It's an idea that's been written countless times, right? Not like this. Schwab makes it feel fresh and new, like you've never read anything like it before. It was fascinating to see Victor and Eli, the two main characters, unravel how people develop these super powers, and even more interesting to read the ways they try to acquire powers themselves. My favorite part was, by far, the flashbacks to their college days as their mindsets and their relationship developed and changed.
Now, I don't think it's fair to discuss Vicious without mentioning the characters. It's kind of a daunting task, talking about these characters, because there is so much that could be said. Eli and Victor are complex and well-developed. Schwab brings the concept of heroes and villains into question, as well as intentions vs. actions. It's all kind of a giant mindfuck because you think you know who is the villain and who is the hero, but then your brain just gets completely scrambled because NOPE. You know who thinks they're the villain and who thinks they're the hero, but it's all so fantastically twisted. I have to say, I ended up really rooting for Victor, who is the protagonist. I didn't agree with all of his methods, and I didn't think he was a particularly great guy, but that's kind of the point. Humans are messy and selfish sometimes, but that doesn't make them evil. Victor was just kind of doing the best he could, in my opinion, and I love the fatherly role he begins to play for Sydney, a young girl he meets and adds to his team.
What prevented me from falling head over heels for this book, though, was the pacing. I found the novel to be a bit slow sometimes. I think a major part of that was all the jumping from character to character. There's a ton of perspective shifting and I understand why it was done, but it just got to be a bit exhausting sometimes. There were some parts that I just would have liked to stay in one person's head.
Vicious is such a complicated, intricate book, and even though I've written quite a bit already, I feel like I have not even come close to doing it justice. It is a dark, twisted book that will really make you think about the nature of humanity and right and wrong. It's truly a brilliant piece of literature and I now understand why everyone speaks so highly of it.