Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an undeniable soft spot for superhero stories that go beyond the standard good versus evil premise. Granted, we need the Flashes, Spidermen, and Supermen of the world to constantly give us hope for a brighter future and show that our personal tragedies don’t have to define us, but, try as we might, most of us relate much more to Batman, The Punisher, and The Incredible Hulk. We love these guys because they aren’t 100% good all of the time; because they are imperfect and angry and constantly toeing the line between hero and crazy person. Somehow, that brooding cynical nature coupled with the way they carry their tragic backstories on their sleeves makes them, and their narratives, feel so much more human.
Vicious by V.E. Schwab expertly provides one of these stories.
Told in alternating chapters of past and present, this novel follows college roommates Victor Vale and Eliot “Eli” Cardale as they attempt to give themselves superpowers. Ten years later, Victor has just broken out of prison and the two are arch enemies, and for good reason. Victor, while not a very nice man, is innocent of the crimes he has been convicted of and Eli, though quite nice indeed, has a very skewed sense of morality. Their dynamic is essentially that of Rorschach and Ozymandias from Watchmen and their story plays out just as epically. I can almost guarantee that you will never care so much about two sociopaths ever again.
Also, this book is the absolute epitome of a page turner. Every chapter is short and compelling, to the point where you find yourself endlessly saying, “One more won’t hurt.”
But they did hurt. My heart is bleeding. Ow.
Additionally, I loved how all of the characters were really well fleshed out, and their decisions rationalised. Even when I didn’t agree with someone’s choices, I always understood where they were coming from. Also, I found it interesting how the dark sides of the characters kind of brought out the dark side in me. When Victor was seething with rage and jealousy and the desire for revenge, I was right there with him, even though I’m a total Hufflepuff.
All of this greatness is aided, of course, by Schwab’s amazing prose. I will never understand how she makes such a bleak and twisted world feel so vibrant and relatable, but I’m so glad that she did. It’s the kind of story where every sentence, no matter how mundane, builds on the one before it and hooks you further into this web of moral ambiguity.
Another one the novel’s immense strengths lies within its self-awareness. Victor knows that neither of them are heroes. Heck, before he even gets powers he’s already comparing himself to Magneto. Really my only complaint is that there isn’t a movie, comic book, or netflix series based on this, because I deserve to see this all play out with my eyeballs instead of just my imagination. We all do.