Vicious by V.E. Schwab (she/they)

Vicious by V.E. Schwab (she/they)

The rundown:

When Victor and Eli - both brilliant, ambitious, and lonely - become roommates in college, they recognize something in each other that draws them together. They become friends, in the best way they can. Fast forward to senior year. Complementary senior thesis ideas lead the two to a thrilling possibility: someone could develop extraordinary abilities after surviving a near-death experience. Their experiments are wildly and unexpectedly successful…and also go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, on a mission to hunt down Eli. Meanwhile, Eli is busy chasing down every ExtraOrdinary (EO) person he can get his hands on. The archnemeses are on a collision course, driven by revenge and betrayal and conviction. Who will survive?


The review:

This noir duology is a smart, fascinating, fresh take on superhero revisionism. Schwab takes a deconstructive approach, tearing down and digging into our assumptions about what it means to be a hero versus a villain. Much of superheroism, in my opinion, is a deep conviction and single-minded pursuit of some unassailable sense of what is right, and Eli fits that to a tee. Eli is also the major villain of the series, which is full of characters who are, at best and with some very thick rose-colored glasses, antiheroes and probably more accurately, outright villains. Including protagonist Victor Vale. Both characters are manipulative, self-interested, and outright murderers. Readers may find themselves rooting for Victor and then questioning why, as I did. 


This duology really shines when you contrast book 1 (Vicious) with the sequel (Vengeful). Vicious is deeply masculine in its approach and explores toxic masculinity as a main theme. Vengeful, however, is about angry women, particularly of the hell-hath-no-fury variety. The powerful men of book 1 spiral out of control as the female characters wield their power and autonomy and fury. Schwab has one of the female characters in Vengeful comment on how men view power in other people (as a threat) versus how she does (as potential), and I still think about that. Vengeful is so much more than merely a sequel to Vicious; it’s an answer to it. And it is glorious. 

Goes well with: Schwab has created a graphic novel series, ExtraOrdinary, that expands upon her noir comic book-style world, featuring a new EO main character as well as some old favorites. Also, I recommend Natalie Zina Walschots’ Hench for another, more action-packed take on supervillains that probes the distinction between good and evil.