A Vicious Review

I bought a pair of books by V.E. Schwab, based largely on hype (beginning with that found poem contest a while back). You never know what you’re going to get with hyped books, but judging them by their covers, I knew they would provide a photo op, at the least.

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I shall review A Darker Shade of Magic sometime soon. Today’s review focuses on Vicious, a (currently) standalone paranormal novel and, as the tagline states, “A twisted tale of ambition, desire and superpowers.”

The book focuses on three timelines, opening with “Last Night” and proceeding from there.

Truth be told, Victor didn’t care for graveyards, either. He didn’t like dead people, mostly because he had no effect on them. Sydney, conversely, didn’t like dead people because she had such a marked effect on them.

Jumping to “Ten Years Ago,” when the protagonists first began to play with the extraordinary.

“Victor wondered about lots of things. He wondered about himself (whether he was broken, or special, or better, or worse) and about other people (whether they were all really as stupid as they seemed). He wondered about Angie – what would happen if he told her how he felt, what it would be like if she chose him. He wondered about life, and people, and science, and magic, and God, and whether he believed in any of them.”

Skipping back regularly to “Two Days Ago,” and the forming of the plans that lead to “Last Night.”

The paper called Eli a hero. The word made Victor laugh. Not just because it was absurd, but because it posed a question. If Eli really was a hero, and Victor meant to stop him, did that make him a villain? He took a long sip of his drink, tipped his head back against the couch, and decided he could live with that.

If this sounds like it might be confusing, don’t worry. The sections are very clearly labeled, and expertly braided together. Each timeline holds its own questions and tensions, beyond the question of how the three (and eventually more) weave together. An interesting device, but more importantly, to me, Schwab is just as expert at braiding together a diverse cast of characters and their smorgasbord of questionable intentions.

Some characters only want to survive. Others live for revenge, or duty. Some don’t seem especially interested in living at all. Some people die and some people care and some people don’t. Almost all of them have supernatural powers. An extraordinary number are sociopaths. In the words of a hacker and escaped convict and, in my opinion, just about the best person in the story, “There are no good men in this game.”

Oh, am I dancing about a bit? Here’s a blurb for you, then:

A pair of troubled college kids kill themselves for power. It was a bad idea. You can’t put life back just the way you found it.

That’s all I’ll give you in the way of synopsis. I like the plot, and I like the world mechanics, but I don’t want to give away too much of either. But mostly, I don’t think I need to tell much in the way of plot and mechanics. This was a book that hooked me more with its characters, its vibe, its sharply grim pall, than anything.

I’m not usually one for general, single-word titles, but the title truly captures the book’s heart. The words have sharp edges to catch in your throat. The chapters are bloodstained and crackling with dark energy. The people are broken. There are superpowers, but no superheroes. It’s not a warm read. It’s not nice. It’s not uplifting.

But it’s deeply, viciously satisfying.

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