Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab



RATING: 2.5 Stars

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?

WELL. WELL. I still don’t know exactly what to think about this book.

Superpowers are in the spotlight this year with my favorite alcoholic feminist, Jessica Jones. In fact, she’s sitting at the forefront with super strength and her own unbreakable will. (Catch her show on Netflix!) I tend to be pretty picky about superhero stories. Alas, when one is done right, it’s a beautiful sight to behold. Jessica Jones won Best TV Show of the Year for me.


So, when my hapless librarian mother recommended that I read Vicious, I decided to try it. I am, after all, a fantasy and sci-fi aficionado. X-Men mixed with a mentally incisive anti-hero theme? WOAH! I was so game.

…upon closing the book, I was left with feelings of deep disgust and the opinion that V.E. Schwab has crapped all over potentially good characters.

Before delving deep into my newest critique, let me just say that Vicious did succeed in being moderately entertaining. Although the writing seemed amateurish and arrogant, ultimately ending in a letdown of a climax, there was still action–death, blood, mayhem, superpowers, and quite a big buildup to the finale. That means this book is already better than the hundreds of boring novels that couldn’t even keep me awake.

Vicious errs on the pretentious side. I found its meaningless rants and monologues so ridiculous that I knew they were written just to be quoted. In Schwab’s effort to make her characters seem more like real (villainous) humans and less like trope-y superheroes, she sucks the reality right out of them by going xTREME with their bad characteristics and creating motivations that just don’t make sense.

I’m all for a survey of the human condition by seeing the hero story turned on its head. What I am not cool with is pseudo-intellectual BS.


Anyway, let me just say what I did and didn’t like so that we can get this dissection over with. I’ve gotta go eat lunch.

Annoyance Number 1: Inaccurate Depiction of Science & Academia

So Vicious starts off in an academic setting–specifically at a university where our two antiheroes are borderline prodigious medical students. The entire plot is sparked by Eli’s decision to research EOs (ExtraOrdinary People) for his thesis. And it gets approved by the professor. The research methods that he and Victor employ are just unrealistic. Psychotic. Stupid. I could think of a thousand ugly words to describe their “research,” but it will suffice to say that I rolled my eyes quite a bit while reading these scenes.

Annoyance Number 2: The Characters

One of the big things in Vicious is the theory that an ExtraOrdinary has had a piece of his/her humanity taken away in return for unnatural power. Many times, it is empathy, guilt,  etc., AKA the factors that affect a person’s actions. Gifted with power and removed from compassion, villainy is pretty much expected here.

Victor and Eli both become repulsive human beings after acquiring super powers. What’s more, they’re grotesquely cardboard. Their motivations do not compute with anything that real people–actual sociopaths included–might do. The author thinks that she can get away with this by saying that their superpowers have altered their brains.

My biggest gripe is the fact that the most amazing characters were thrown to the sidelines. One ExtraOrdinary, in particular, has the greatest power of all. And yet she becomes nothing more than a tool for Eli even though her intelligence matches, if not surpasses, his. I just didn’t understand why she even involved herself in Eli’s petty life. There were no sufficient explanations for why she followed Eli around, advancing the plot but not fulfilling half of her potential. What a waste of a good character.

I did like Sydney and Mitchell. Too bad they’re not the main protagonists.

Annoyance Number 3: So many things that I don’t feel like listing them all, lest I spoil the un-lovely surprises for potential readers.

The Verdict:

Vicious is an engaging read that, unfortunately, sacrifices its plot and character development in the name of the anti-hero theme. Though many of its scenes are compelling, this book ultimately ends with a whimper–not a bang. I was left unsatisfied.


Try Vicious if you enjoy any of the following literary flavors:

  • superpowers
  • anti-heroes
  • sociopaths
  • science experiment gone wrong
  • pessimism
  • narcissism
  • escaped convicts
  • revenge


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