Vicious by V.E. Schwab | Book Review

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Standalone, but a sequel is possible
Adult/Science Fiction/Super Heroes
Summary:
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?

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 4 out of 5 stars
More like a 4.5, but let's just go with 4.

Finding righteousness where only evil truly lies. Working to a "happy ending" with a less-than-honorable set of methods. Morality that teeters only within a spectrum of grey, approaching black & white standards only when seen through the veil of a delusional mind. This is the core of what Vicious is - and where its appeal lies. There is no great act of goodness triumphing over evil. There is no clean-cut hero or villain. You're thrown into a tale bending to the hungers of two men - whether they desire revenge or righteousness - ultimately, their hungers leading to the other's demise. This is a story of two nemeses, who were once friends, and now want nothing more than to see the other dead.

Vicious is told in multiple POVs, in multiple time periods. We flip between the present, the near past, and the distant past. The back-story unfolds simultaneously with the present conflict. This works incredibly well. We are always given just enough information about the past as we need at any moment, and we're not only left curious about what is going to happen in the end, but what exactly happened 10 years ago that spurred all of this on. Towards the end, the multiple POVs felt more like a hindrance than a help - but I think this is a problem a lot of books have when attempting multiple POVs. The execution in the beginning and throughout most of the book was flawless, however.

The dynamics between the characters - specifically our two main characters, Eli and Victor, was phenomenal. Their relationship is incredibly fascinating and watching their friendship crumble into hatred is very entertaining. I was slightly disappointed with the characterization of Eli, if I'm being honest. In the beginning, he's an interesting and enigmatic character. He undergoes drastic changes to his personality (if you consider mentions of character development spoilery, skip the italics) and essentially becomes a religious fanatic - which felt strained and too reliant on tropes. While I mentioned the morality being very much grey, I still found it easy to relate to one of the main characters over the other. At first I thought it was perhaps because Victor is given more attention in the beginning, but it's mostly because crazy religious fanatics make me want to rip my eyes out. So no team Eli as an option for me. I would have liked if it had been harder to pick a side, since that was the main appeal for me.

My main complaints lie with parts of the book mostly leaning towards the end. Things began to feel generic, from Eli's characterization to certain fantasy elements in what powers various characters possessed. Some things felt like they needed more explanation or they felt too "convenient" for the story. Not huge issues, but they did put a damper on my enthusiasm. Ultimately I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it!

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