Vicious by Victoria E Schwab: A masterful take on Superheroes and morality.
Vicious is a perfect book.
There I said it. It’s such a riveting work of fiction – about Superheroes and their morality. And mortality. Striking a fine balance between these two concepts, Victoria guides us along on this breakneck revenge-saga – a tour of the moral meltdown of two sociopathic mad geniuses who play at Superheroes on a singular mission to exact revenge for a wrong done in their past. And all the collateral damage that affects this singled-minded focus of these two superheroes so caught up in their own invincibility and clearly a judgment clouded by hubris.
Sounds confusing? It really is not. It’s a wonderfully written novel that centers around two arch-nemeses superheroes out to destroy each other. Here is the condensed version of the story.
Eli and Victor are the super-over-achievers, razor-sharp students at Lockland University intent on outsmarting each other. Being social pariahs, they are driven to do bizarre experiments that include near-death experiments to test their weird “Extra-Oridinary” hypotheses. One experiment goes horribly awry resulting in a fissure that cracks and deepens over the next ten years – leading to a fall-out and thus making them arch-enemies hell bent on destroying each other.
Victor – decidedly our main protagonist is the withdrawn intense thinker whose disdain for his super successful author parents he expresses using a sharpie and blackening out lines from their self-help books to come up with lines that are simple depressing truths of life. We first see him exhuming a dead body from a graveyard hell bent on a mysterious mission along with this “dead” girl for company. Eli on the other hand is just as brilliant and borderline neurotic as Victor but manages to hide under a smiling gregarious all-american exterior. Complete with a girlfriend with her own mysterious allure and powers.
As one of the major side characters of the book exclaims, there are no good guys in the game – and so with Eli and Victor. With great power comes great hubris. That clouds your morality and sends you spinning into a moral meltdown of feelings and values and ethics. By not painting them entirely as good or bad, Victoria drives a powerful narrative that sees us invested in the fates of these two ‘friends’. Her atmospheric haunting quality of writing keeps us riveted to this grand sweeping game of revenge played out over a couple of days interspersed with flashes of the past. This interplay of time really builds up the story and we anxiously feel the rising tension that spills out into an all-out war of bitter jealousy, tall ambitions and cruel intentions.
Victoria digs deep – giving us glimpses into the minds of these two “superheroes” – their motivations and their own personal twisted interpretations of the various events that shape them. It is this fascinating character study that really propels the story forwards. We know it is going to end in the sad cruel death of one of them. But once you start the book, you’re dragged and immersed deep into this play of wits that you cannot stop. I personally loved the flashback sequences of them as college friends. The world is unique – perhaps a near-future version of our world but is relevant and exquisitely painted. I would love to see something else in the same world as Vicious.
It's an odd ball of a book: positioning it as an urban-fantasy or magical realism or paranormal would be an injustice. It is an unexpected package and that is what makes this such an awesome one. A unique take on the "superhero" genre, Vicious is a hauntingly beautiful tale of weird flawed characters whom you may not like but who will definitely capture your attention. It’s a brilliant work of fiction and you’re doing yourself an injustice by NOT reading this one.