V. E. Schwab
8.8 (Best New 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?
The wise Nietzsche once said, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you," which all leads to multiple interpretations that can be summarized into one simple sentence: fighting monsters creates new monsters. Someone who fights evil, using all measures and utilities, for greater good and justified eventually becomes an evil itself--as he annihilates the evil and is tempted by the evil itself, creating new evil. It seems confusing, but for Victoria Schwab it isn't that hard to understand, and it's the quintessence of Friederich's words is embodied in Vicious, her first adult book.
Mostly known by her young adult books, many people cast a shadow of doubt for Schwab's first adult book. Can she make an adult book with such complexity and mature content that's expected from an adult book? All that shadow of doubt is hit by crepuscular light when Vicious arrives. Not only this book is complex, but it shuts the dubiousness.
Vicious is amazing--and that one word doesn't even describe this book thoroughly. Everything from characters, plot, how Schwab crafts words, conflict, Freytag's pyramid, it's all good. Vicious's plot rolls like a long tapestry, where she depicts the gray characters, arguing that actually there's no such thing as bad people in this world, only people who think what he believes is right. As the whole book is viewed from two anti-heroes' perspective, it's completely fascinating to see where actually each of them's state of mind stands. You may incline to support one character or the other, and that's a proof that Schwab is successful in creating gray characters. It reminds me of Chaos Walking series where everything is gray, no one's right or wrong.
Vicious is also blessed with secondary characters that are realistic and earnest. Mitch Turner, for example, a bulk man who's covered in tattoos somehow defies the stereotype of dumb and vile buffed man. On the contrary, he turns out to be such a smart and caring man. Sydney, a 13-year-old girl whose power is so powerful is a shy girl, but as her character develops, she can show such bravery. Serena, her sister, is portrayed as a cold-blooded sister, but eventually it's revealed why she acts that way. Schwab's characters are soulful.
The concept behind the superpower, while not possible, does make sense and is able to hold my suspension of disbelief. Vicious takes place in English/American-esque fictional country, with fictional cities. It's enticing and tempting, and that makes Vicious's worldbuilding is enjoyable and believable. At the beginning, Vicious seems normal and mundane, as the plot goes back and forth between last night and ten years ago. But, Schwab's way of rolling her plot somehow perfectly builds the moments, as the back story starts to root and give such strong foundation, so it makes her easy to fasten the pace in the climax. The result is gorgeous. Vicious is not action packed, but it's able to hold your breath.
It's hard to make a good urban fantasy, especially an adult one. But, Schwab somehow makes it look so effortless in Vicious, one of my best reads this year.