V.E Schwab’s Vicious is a superhero novel, but perhaps not the one you’d expect. There’s no comic action, no explosions, no duels in the sky before frightened citizens. Those with powers work in the background, still regarded as a myth or urban legends. Vicious is about what happens when two college roommates try to find the truth about these EO’s (Extra Ordinary people) and the consequences when their research becomes more than theoretical.
From the first couple of chapters one might think the story was fairly traditional in terms of superhero fiction, but as the book progresses you see the work Schwab has put into twisting the normal tropes you’d expect. The book works hard to surprise you, managing to put a new spin on a lot of old ideas. And while it might lack the Hollywood action of the big screen, the novel does manage to show the dangerous power and consequences caused by people with abilities.
The conflict between nemeses Victor and Eli is well crafted and expanded throughout the book, both characters are explored in depth to give the reader a clear view of their motivations and feelings. With both characters passionately believing they are right and determined to carry out their plans it creates a very high stakes atmosphere. Victor is particularly well written, coming across as very measured and calculating in his chapters. The long rivalry between the two again lacks the epic quality of Superman and Lex Luthor, but it has a very personnel feel to it, making the book worthy of its title.
Other characters are a bit less developed, but still worthy additions to the cast. The hulking sidekick Mitch is a good balance to Victor’s serious persona, while Eli’s siren partner Serena has some real complexity to her character. By comparison I did think Sydney, a twelve year old with the power to bring back the dead, was a little bland in contrast.
The story is told in a succession of very short chapters from different times, this somewhat unusual approach does mean the writing is very tightly focused, but also requires the reader to pay attention and keep track of the timeline. This method allows the reader to see the events that led to the characters powers along with the results of their use to form a complete narrative in a short space. Having the chapter titles denote times also serve to create a thick sense of anticipation and build-up before the climax.
The writing is focused and fast paced, with an underlying sardonic humour in many of the chapters that gives the work a unique style. The book has a grittier and more down to earth feel than other superhero fiction, skulking in the shadows rather than flying through the sky. The plot is an exciting mix of action, detective and thriller genres that provides a great opportunity to learn about the characters and witness their individual conflicts. Schwab puts a lot of effort into making her characters believable as they try to justify themselves - rather than having clear battle lines, it’s more a case of the lesser evil. The book offers an innovative look at superhero fiction and its numerous tweaks make it a great spin on the genre.
Written on 9th October 2015 by Aaron Miles.
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