Author: V.E. Schwab
Release Date: September 24, 2013
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?
Vicious is a dark and twisted tale, a story of two men who started as friends and became something more. Schwab takes the comic book-style battle of hero versus villain and turns it all around in so many different directions you're no longer sure which is which, or if there's even a difference between the two. The complexity of good against evil, the sticky in-between shades of grey, were well-explored in enthralling characters with curious abilities and moments of clever wit.
Victor is determined. Determined to catch up to Eli, determined to stop him, determined to make him understand that those with powers aren't instantly or innately evil. Victor is different than his old friend, I don't think he necessarily sees those with abilities as good or evil. He's more practical than Eli, more calculating, and perhaps more willing to accept what's happened to the both of them. Not good, not evil, but different. Useful, depending on what the ability is. Perhaps that's what draws him to his young sidekick.
Eli is determined as well, but in a different way. He's determined to find every person with superpowers, to search them out, and to stop them. To kill them. To Eli, they're monsters, evil creatures, less than their former human selves. Perhaps more, instead. More dangerous and destructive. What happened to him was terrible, but he sees himself as the saviour of mankind, as a hero, and it's up to him to save society from their evil.
What makes a person a hero or a villain? What defines them? Is it their actions and how those actions affect the people around them, the society around them, or is it something less tangible? Is it instead intention? Is it the belief that what they're doing will save, or destroy, the world? Both Victor and Eli straddle the line throughout the book, caught between intention and action, between what they hope their actions will do and what they actually do.
As dark as this book is, as weird and twisted, it is, I also found it to be fun and hugely entertaining. I do wonder what that says about my own tastes, though. Still, I believe this to be an interesting and intelligent book, one that re-imagines and explores heroes and villains, good and evil, morality, loyalty, and life and death.
(I received an advance copy to review from Raincoast Books.)