5/5 stars on Goodreads
Vicious (Villains 1) is an excellent book that works on
every level: the premise, the story and its execution, and the characters. It’s
deceptively simple, the narrative gives only the information the reader needs
and nothing more, but grows more complicated towards the end. And the ending is
|Vicious by V. E. Schwab|
The book is set in a vaguely American town, though it’s never explicitly stated that it takes place in America. The society is contemporary and like ours, with the exception of EOs: ExtraOrdinary people. They’re not a widely known phenomenon in that society, and the reader isn’t given any comprehensive explanations about them. Two college students, Victor and Eli, set out to study them, and they find a way to create EOs. They never ask if they should, they simply set out to do it.
Victor and Eli are friends, not because they necessarily like each other, but because in their college they are the only two people who they find affinity to. They are both damaged in some ways, mostly because of events that are alluded to but never clarified (Eli’s father flocked him, Victor’s parents neglected him), and both have brilliant minds. They are competitive and envious of one another’s successes, and the friendship doesn’t seem healthy. When Eli successfully becomes an EO and then denies Victor the chance, Victor goes behind Eli’s back to become one too. It leads to a spectacular falling-out between them. Ten years later, it’s time for payback.
The story is told in two levels: the countdown to the showdown, and the events that led to it in the past. Mostly, we follow the events through Victor’s eyes, and while the reader is ready to treat him as the main character to root for, he isn’t a good guy or a hero. Eli believes he’s a hero, but even the chapters in his point of view don’t manage to create sympathy for him. That both main characters are fairly unsympathetic—though Victor comes out better—might make a rather unpleasant reading, but luckily there are a couple of side characters that bring warmth to the story, and show Victor in a better light too.
The showdown, Victor’s revenge, is built carefully in short chapters, creating tension and raising the stakes, so that the reader is more or less convinced that it won’t work and that Victor will lose. And while that is in some ways true, it’s also untrue. The ending is immensely satisfying.
Vicious is both a psychological study of unhealthy friendships and dangers of unchecked ego, and a thriller. It works on both levels. It might work even if it didn’t contain the supernatural element, but that’s needed at the showdown. It’s a complete, standalone book, and it doesn’t need a sequel. I can understand why it has taken the author years to write one. But now that it exists, I’ll definitely read it too.
At the end of my edition of the book was a short story called Warm Up, which is available separately too. It’s marketed as a prequel to Vicious, but it’s more of a vignette, a story of an EO and his encounter with Eli and the inevitable consequence of it. It doesn’t add anything to the Villains world, and it isn’t necessary to read it.
|Warm Up by V. E. Schwab|