Vicious by V.E. Schwab, Review by Corinne Donnelly
College, extraordinary powers, and a slew of murders, oh my! Vicious by V.E. Schwab tracks former roommates Victor Vale and Eliott “Eli” Cardale over a period of ten years. When Eli chooses to write his final college thesis on EOs, people with ExtraOrdinary powers, an intrigued Victor finds a way to involve himself in the project too. What happens next changes their lives forever.
The chapters jump back and forth between time periods, so be prepared to dive into the main conflict within the first few pages. Since Schwab leaves out various elements of the plot only to surprise the reader with them later, you will find yourself constantly mulling over who is actually the hero and who the villain. Various chapters are also told from different perspectives, so the reader gets an inside look into the minds of all of the main characters.
While the plot mostly revolves around Victor and Eli, the two pick up a variety of extreme personalities along the way. Sydney and Serena, sisters with a dismal past, end up entwined in their shenanigans, along with Mitchell, an ex-con hacker genius with a strong sense of loyalty. Victor and Eli each possess distinctive personalities that contrast each other well. Where Victor is a conflicted and introspective outcast, Eli is outgoing, religious, and adored by all.
The most captivating aspect of the novel is the theme of real vs. perceived heroism. Who decides what makes a hero? Likewise, when does someone become a supervillain? What makes you one or the other? Is there a clear line between the two or is it more complicated than that? And the underlying theme of power adds even more complications to those questions. It’s an endless psychological feedback loop that may or may not drive you insane, but in a good way, I promise.
The one major issue I have with the plot, which somewhat spoiled it for me, is Eli’s development. From the beginning of the novel, his persona is far less nuanced in comparison to Victor’s. Everything seems very black and white to him, and that never really changes. His obsession with God and doing “God’s work” also annoyed me slightly, as he becomes very one-track minded in that regard. Whether or not this was an active choice on behalf of the author, I will not deny it made for a rather stale character by the end of the novel.
Regardless of that one caveat, V.E. Schwab’s Vicious is a fascinating look into a world with an underground superhero network. The novel is incredibly engaging and action-packed from the get-go. If you pick it up, make sure to clear your schedule, as it’s a page-turner you won’t be able to put down lightly.