Vicious was my first pick for our Book Club, and I’m so happy with it. I thought I would like it, but I wasn’t expecting to love it so much. Lauren’s enthusiasm for the book also made me a bit emotional because SHE AGREES WITH ME. Anyway, here is our discussion and thoughts regarding the book.
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?
In Vicious, V. E. Schwab brings to life a gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose: a world where gaining superpowers doesn’t automatically lead to heroism, and a time when allegiances are called into question.
Lauren: Have we ever talked about how much I am fascinated by fictional sociopaths? Because I love them, I really, really do. Anything, be it movies, tv shows, or books, are always going to be infinitely more interesting to me if there is a well written sociopath all up in there that I can flail over. So imagine my excitement when I open this book and find that not only is Victor my special type of character, but that his sociopathy is written SO DAMN WELL it makes me want to cry. I LOVED Victor; his voice held that perfect balance between reserved and approachable that makes sociopaths so intriguing to me. He is at once terrifying and incredibly sympathetic. Basically I could just go on about Victor all day if you asked me to (please ask me to oh god please).
Amber: So, um, I’m kind of obsessed with Victor. I don’t want to say that I found him relatable, because that’s a bit of a stretch (and I’m not ready to admit that to myself just yet), but I connected with him straight away. I very much enjoyed his determination to get revenge on the person that wronged him, and it was pretty obsessive. He would do anything to meet his goal, and everyone knows that I love characters like that. I’m not going to go into the sociopathy or anything, because Lauren covered it here and in the Themes section below. Just know that Victor is an amazing character with so many different sides to him, and at his core he’s intense and obsessive. My favourite type of character, let’s be honest.
Tatum: Gonna rain on the Victor parade a little bit here because I just really didn’t like him, and I think it contributed to my overall lack of enthusiasm for the book tbh. Do I think he’s an interesting character? Sort of? To me though he was basically a sympathetic anti-hero type and that isn’t anything new or exciting really. I didn’t connect to him at all.
Lauren: Psychopaths scare me on a fundamental level, and those with religious themed psychoses even more so. This meant that I found it harder to connect with Eli than with Victor, because instead of feeling the urge to get closer like with Victor, whenever Eli was narrating I just wanted to run away screaming. And it was WONDERFUL. Ohmygod, the way his voice was written, so perfectly reasonable, his beliefs laid out so simply on the page so that you can’t help but understand him even as you know the dude is as nutty as a bag of cashews. That is terrifying to me, and I loved every second of it.
Amber: Like Lauren, I found it harder to connect with Eli. Probably because I’m not a psychopath.
That said, I adored reading about him and how his character contrasted with Victor so well. There were similarities between the two characters, but Schwab subtly showed the differences between them, and I found myself captivated whenever Eli had a chapter. He was a fantastic character to read about as he justified his decisions and his beliefs.
Tatum: At least for me Eli started off as the more interesting character because he was absolutely batshit but played the role of an All-American boy so convincingly that only Victor could tell who he really was. Maybe if the novel had been from Eli’s POV I would’ve liked it more, I dunno. He unfortunately started to bore me after a while too, which is a shame because I do enjoy a bit of psychopathy in my characters.
Lauren: Sydney. SYDNEY. Ohmygod this girl, I wanted to hold her tight and feed her cookies and warm milk while crying over how perfect her small, sad little voice was. She was an angel, both in narrative style and in relation to her place within the plot (from one perspective) and I just adored how this one, tiny, little girl was given the role of linchpin between the two main perspectives. I just, I need more Sydney can we please have another book all about Sydney?
Amber: YES. SYDNEY. And also the bodyguard guy whose name I have forgotten. Did it start with M? Let’s call him Morris. I loved getting their backstories, and how fully fleshed out both characters were, even though the main focus was on the two former
lovers best friends. They were full of win.
Tatum: Sydney was adorable and of all the characters I liked her the most. I just don’t know really what she was doing in this story other than showing that Victor could feel emotions – anti-hero type meets a fragile girl and suddenly SYMPATHY and CHARACTER DEPTH. Her sister, whose name I have forgotten, was also an interesting character and I liked her ‘complex’ about her powers because it was very amusing. To me anyway.
Lauren: I could literally write an entire thesis on the themes within this book. In fact I might even do that at some point because this book is just so damn fascinating that I haven’t stopped thinking about it. The idea of basing a book on the difference between psychopathy and sociopathy is just so inspired, and then to layer that in with perceptions of superheroes and villains… Well, it just blows my mind. Felipe Ferdandez-Armesto said, “Every hero is someone else’s villain. Heroism and villainy are just two sides of the same coin,” and never before have I seen someone take this idea and make up a story that is entirely about perception. Throughout the narrative, Schwab is constantly asking the reader, just who is the villain in this story? She takes the quintessential small-town-American-everyman and pits him against the archetypal slightly-off-putting-but-you-can’t-put-your-finger-on-why guy, and then lets the reader decide just who is the hero. This book has literally made me rethink my reactions to every superhero and villain I have ever come across, and if I could give this book a million stars on Goodreads it still wouldn’t be enough.
Tatum: I would like to read academic criticism on this book tbh.
Lauren: Ugh, I loved it so much don’t even look at me right now. The switches back and forth between the timelines were seamless and perfectly added to the tension of the story, and the switches between Victor and Eli (and the other minor characters) were so subtly done and yet still so distinctive. It was just perfect okay. It was quick and clean, description perfectly balanced with dialogue and plot, and I just never wanted it to end.
Amber: I read The Archived by the same author, and enjoyed it, although I wasn’t blown away. I thought Schwab was a good writer, good enough that I wanted to read Vicious when I heard it was about villains and super abilities. Victoria Schwab really outdid herself with Vicious, and I was blown away by the difference in her writing style. I think she did a great job of handling the themes of the story, and setting out the differences between Eli and Victor. I particularly enjoyed her handling of the tension between the two of them, because they were totally in love with each other.
Tatum: Nah, her writing just isn’t for me. She’s not a bad writer, I don’t think, and it’s what made me bump up my initial two star rating to three, but on a personal level she just isn’t engaging enough for me. I like to be absorbed when I’m reading, not having my mind wander off in three different directions which is what kept happening with this book.
Lauren: I can’t choose, please don’t make me choose! This is, without a doubt, the best book I have read in such a long time and I just adored every single thing about it. Although, plot wise, I did really enjoy the ‘science experiments’ that went on between Victor and Eli (and no that was not a sexual innuendo although queer subtext was definitely there don’t touch me) – this does make me worry about my sanity slightly but hey ho, what can you do?
Amber: *grins* I’m so happy that Lauren loved my pick so much. Can that be my favourite aspect? I don’t know who I’m asking, because I make the rules here. Anyway, my favourite part was probably the superpowers. If you know me, then you’re probably aware that superpowers are one of my favourite things. X-Men and Heroes were (are) my life when I was younger, and I absolutely adore it when characters’ abilities are connected with their personalities or traits in some way.
Tatum: Y’all, I would pick Sydney but I want to complain about how Victor and Eli should’ve made out a lot because their relationship was full of UST and reading about their obsession with each other was probably my favourite part of the book. But also Sydney, I cannot decide.
Least favourite Aspect
Lauren: LITERALLY NOTHING I LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT IT.
Amber: I think it should have been 500 pages longer because I didn’t want it to end.
Tatum: Victor. Also the plot didn’t work for me, I’m sorry.
Tatum: I was gonna pick another tune but I remembered this one and it made me chuckle because this is how I imagined Victor to be while thinking of Eli.
Obviously Tatum has awful taste and cannot be trusted. What did you guys think of Vicious? I know it’s been getting a lot of rave reviews around the blogosphere, and for good reason in my opinion! Who did you prefer, Victor or Eli? I imagine the answer to be pretty unanimous, but you never know. Let me know your thoughts and feelings below!