I listened to Vicious as an audio book and found myself wanting to drive around endlessly just to see how the story ended. The first in the “Villains” series, we are introduced to Victor and and Eli, who were once college roommates working on a project on adrenaline and near-death experiences but are not better enemies. Who will win out in the end?
Good Vs. Evil
Usually, I’m not a fan of the standard “good vs. evil” narrative, but I was intrigued by the structure of this story enough to give it a chance. I’m glad that I did. While the first half of the book situates the reader in the mind of Victor, who has recently escaped from a ten-year stint in prison for murder, the second half drops us into Eli’s consciousness. Both characters, we learn, are as the title suggests: vicious. Even though I would argue that Victor is meant to be more of a heroic figure, Eli (who is on a quest to eradicate all humans who have ExtraOrdinary abilities) is still made to be a sympathetic character. Although some might argue that both characters inhabit a morally grey area, I think it makes them all the more enticing.
After all, as the narrator suggests…
“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”
The narrative flashes back and forth between the past where Victor and Eli make disturbing discoveries and the present, ten years later when they are enemies. Each chapter is a different time frame, ranging from ten years ago to two hours ago. As an audiobook, I have to say that this sometimes got a bit confusing if I didn’t first hear the time shift. Narratively though, it kept me listening because I was so curious to piece together the puzzle of how Victor and Eli had become enemies.
A New Take on Superheroes
Reminiscent of the 1990 horror film Flatliners, the excitement begins when Victor and Eli begin to experiment with near-death experiences by trying to kill each other as a way of unearthing their own dormant ExtraOrdinary abilities. I’ve read some reviews that would call this plot “derivative,” but I would have to disagree. What V.E. Schwab does with this notion (even though it is not new) is clever, because she uses the idea of near-death experiences as a way to explain the existence of super heroes. I would also argue that there have been plenty of stories that were derived in some way from other similar narratives (read more about that here) and what makes a story truly worthwhile is the gorgeous prose (check), fascinating characters (check) and fast-moving plot (check).
If you’re looking for a story where the good guys look like good guys and the bad guys wear black cloaks and cackle, go read something else. If you love complex, engrossing books with characters who will make you think, read Vicious. I guarantee it’s a book you’ll want to devour.
What are your favourite super hero stories? Why, exactly, are we drawn to tales of super hero strength?