Let’s start this media roll out with some dark contemporary fantasy. No matter what I have to say about the author of this book, Vicious has stayed in my memory as a great novel for two years since I read it. This is to the point that it stands as the most recent and only stand alone book on my top ten list… but only so long as a it stays as a stand alone book, which according to Wikipedia, it won’t. Safe to say that whether it will remain on that list will depend massively on the sequel. But for now, it is still one of the best books I have read in the last two years and an easy recommendation for any fantasy reader.
Vicious focuses on the vicious rivalry between Victor and Eli, shown in flashbacks and the present tense, and the powers they receive through their drive to out-do each other. It starts as them as college roommates with Victor being jealous of Eli for going out with the girl he likes, his scientific skill and his overall charisma. That’s until he discovers a way to use adrenals during near death experiments to awaken dormant superpowers, which he tests on Eli first. Desperate to get his own power, he succeeds only at cost of the girl they’re both love, leading to a life long rivalry. Eli’s mental state changes until he starts killing anyone else like them, and Victor, fresh out jail for her murder, is determined to stop him.
Firstly the plot weaving between the flashbacks and the present is very smooth, each flashback brought to relevance with a brilliant transition by a memory being triggered by something or a report from an accident that happened back then. I wish the same could be said about the minor characters who aren’t Victor and Eli, but they still manage to bring a new dimension to the story by showing how this phenomenon is affecting more people in the world than just the two of them. Convincing is a word that comes to mind. The powers that exist, although sounding unrealistic when trying to explain them to others, seem very realistic when reading about them in the context the narrative, and the way Schwab makes them feel natural is very impressive.
The characters are another part that seem very realistic. Even when they get their powers they are flawed, human and are conflicted between their different ideologies. Being in their heads, especially Victor’s, really felt like I was getting into the mind a university aged version of myself when competing with other students to get a book published. However, the real beauty of Vicious is its atmosphere. From the perspectives of Victor and Eli the world of Vicious is a cold and calculating place, which is perfect when playing off each other, and when shown from the perspectives of the characters they are using to their own ends, it seems even darker. Adding to the grim nature are the powers, that are generally body or mind possessed and never as flamboyant as the wizard in any epic fantasy, which suits the contemporary setting.
I don’t know what it was but something about Vicious left a very memorable aftertaste in my memory. Not something that I would want to go back to, unless it was the exact same story, but something that makes me want others to experience and talk about it with. The powers are interesting without being over the top, the characters are smart and flawed in a good way, and the narrative style shows who the characters were and what they went through to become who they are. It’s convincing despite it’s unrealistic elements, it’s dark and cold like shade on a hot dry day, and like with Victor when gaining his powers, it’s going to make you feel something extreme through a bridge you understand… like a static shock might help you get ready for a lightning bolt.