A Vicious Tribute

A cosplay shoot depicting V.E. Schwab’s novel, Vicious. Modeled and photographed by Tirzah Duncan (me!) and Danielle E. Shipley (the bestie!).

Blackout 05

The marker hissed as he drew another line, blotting out several sentences in the middle of the page… He skimmed the words and smiled as he found another section to ink out. By the time the first bell rang, signaling the end of Victor’s art elective, he’d turned his parents’ lectures on how to start the day into:

Be lost. Give up. give In. in the end It would be better to surrender before you begin. be lost And then you will not care if you are ever found.

He’d had to strike through entire paragraphs to make the sentence perfect after he accidentally marked out ever and had to go on until he found another instance of the word. But it was worth it. The pages of black that stretched between if you are and ever and found  gave the words just the right sense of abandonment.

Ice 04_best

Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.

Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twisted together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped―almost hoped―that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.

Knife 01

But he needed a sign. God had seemed, in the past few days, like a match-light next to the sun of Eli’s discoveries, but now he felt like a boy again, needing sanction, approval. He pulled a pocket-knife from his jeans, and clicked it open.

“Would You take it back?” he asked the dark apartment. “If I were no longer of Your making, You would take this power back, wouldn’t you?” Tears glistened in his eyes. “Wouldn’t you?”

He cut deep, carving a line from elbow to wrist, wincing as blood welled and spilled instantly, dripping to the floor. “You’d let me die.” He switched hands and carved a matching line down his other arm, but before he’d reached the wrist, the wounds were closed, leaving only smooth skin, and a small pool of blood.

Cards - Eli, back

“Wouldn’t you?” He cut deeper, through to bone, over and over, until the floor was red. Until he’d given his life to God a hundred times, and a hundred times had it given back. Until the fear and doubt had all been bled out of him. And then he set the knife aside with shaking hands. Eli dipped his fingertips in the slick of red, crossed himself, and got back to his feet.

Cards - Victor, back

Eli was like a thorn beneath Victor’s skin, and it hurt. He could turn off every nerve in his body, but Victor couldn’t do a damn thing about the twinge he felt when he thought of Cardale. The worst part of going numb was that it took away everything but this, the smothering need to hurt, to break, to kill, pouring over him like a thick blanket of syrup until he panicked and brought the physical sensations back.

Cards - Eli, front 01

“―Self-righteousness,” Victor said. But when Sydney looked confused, he added, “He heals. It‘s a reflexive ability. In his eyes, I think that makes it somehow pure. Divine. He can‘t technically use his power to hurt others.”
“No,” said Sydney, “he uses guns for that.”
Victor chuckled.

Cards - Victor, front

The paper had 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.

Cards - Eli, deuces

She wrapped her arms around Eli’s waist and kissed the back of his neck. “You know I don’t want this kind of control,” she whispered. “Now put the gun away.” Eli’s hand slid the weapon back into its holster. “You’re not going to kill me today.”

He turned to face her, wrapped his hands, now empty, around her back, and pulled her close, his lips brushing her ear.

“One of these days, Serena,” he whispered, “you’re going to forget to say that.”

Cards - Victor, deuces

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Thirteen,” she lied, because she hated being twelve. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two. What happened to you?”

“Someone tried to kill me.”

“I can see that. But why would someone try to do that?”

She shook her head. “It’s not your turn. Why couldn’t you become a doctor?”

“Because I went to jail,” he said. “Why would someone try to kill you?”

She scratched her shin with her heel, which meant she was about to lie, but Victor didn’t know her well enough to know that yet. “No idea.”

Wineglass 04

The air was crisp and he relished it as he rested his elbows on the frozen metal rail, clutching his drink, even though he ice made the glass cold enough to hurt his fingers. Not that he felt it.

Graveyard 21

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 precisely because she had such a marked effect on them.

Graveyard 15

He hardly felt the cold through his coat. He was too busy trying to picture what Eli’s face would look like when he received their message. Trying to picture the shock, the anger, and threaded through it all, the fear. Fear because it could only mean one thing.

Graveyard 17

Victor was out. Victor was free. And Victor was coming for Eli―just as he’d promised he would. He sunk the shovel into the cold earth with a satisfying thud.

Graveyard 12

Thud. Thud.

“Are you one of the bad ones?” asked Sydney. Her watery blue eyes stared straight at him, unblinking. She wasn’t sure if the answer mattered, really, but she felt like she should know.

“Some would say so,” he said.


Shovel 11

She kept staring. “I don’t think you’re a bad person, Victor.”

Victor kept digging. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”


“About the prison. Did they… did they let you out?” she asked quietly.


Victor left the shovel planted in the ground, and looked up at her. And then he smiled, which she noticed he seemed to do a lot before he lied, and said, “Of course.”

Shovel 01

There was a moment of silence, almost reverent, before Victor’s hand came down on her shoulder.

“Well?” he said, pointing to the body. “Do your thing.”

Shovel 08

“Oh, sure I can,” he said pleasantly. “I can shut the lid. Put the dirt back. Walk away.”

Frenemeses 01

Hate was too simple a word. He and Eli were bonded, by blood and death and science. They were alike, more so now than ever. And he had missed Eli. He wanted to see him. And he wanted to see him suffer. He wanted to see the look in Eli’s eyes when he lit them up with pain. He wanted his attention.

Frenemeses 02

“You can’t kill me, Victor,” said Eli. “You know that.”

“I know. But you’ll have to indulge me. I’ve waited so long to try.”


Cards - Schwab

Eli: Wha…?

Victor: Who?

V.E. Schwab: It’s great to be the one pulling the strings. 😉

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Last week, I gave my thoughts on Vicious, by V.E. Schwab. This week, I delve into A Darker Shade of Magic, as promised.

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Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.


My feelings about this book? Fear.

Not right off, mind. I started with curiosity, as the pages gradually unfolded the workings of these four parallel Londons stacked neatly atop one another, the workings of magic, the workings of the minds and hearts of Kell and Delilah. The worldbuilding satisfied me; never a dam bursting with information to overwhelm the reader and clog the story, but plenty of rich detail tucked between one plot point and another.

But from the outset, I was faintly ill-at-ease. In a good way.

Perhaps it was the tone, almost pleasant, but stained at the edges with a discontent and darkness. Perhaps it was Kell’s mismatched eyes, one pale, one the edge-to-edge black of an Anatari–a blood magician. Perhaps it was an early and unexplained visit by White London’s ambassador, the one other known Antari in any of the realms. Is he the villain? I wondered, or is the situation far more complicated than that? Time (and Schwab’s straightforward and largely seamless writing) would tell.

Whatever the cause, I had the definite sense that the balance between these worlds might be threatened far too easily. And of course, it was. The fear began, then, at first trickling in, then thickening in a steady incline throughout the whole of the book. V.E. Schwab knows how to set the flame under a plot and turn it hotter, ever hotter, until everything is engulfed in an explosion of tensions at the climax.

But while interesting and fully-fleshed worlds, finger-tingling new magic systems, well-woven plot arcs, and marvelous infinity-coats (Did I not mention Kell’s enviable coat of many dimensions?) are wonderful and even necessary, in my eyes, books live and die by their characters. The world(s) get five stars from me. The magic system? Five stars. The plot? Five stars. The dialogue and one-liners? Five stars. The coat? Six stars. The characters?

*Sigh* Four stars. Now, that’s not too bad a rating, but it’s just a little sad for me when compared to the excellence of the rest–and to the absolutely magnificent cast of persons Schwab created in Vicious.

I liked them. Kell, young and immensely powerful, was a good blend of sweet and cocksure, happy, but touched with bitter melancholy. Lila, I first feared would be a typical brash tomboy character, but while brash and tomboyish, she’s also a blase adrenaline junky who takes a fierce delight in life, and has a refreshing lack of angst for a teenaged girl. Even when she’s cutting throats.

They were good. Just not great. They were… almost complex. Almost vivid. Almost breathing. Almost superb. Almost captivating. Perhaps part of the fault lies in the fact that the entire novel covers a relatively short amount of time–less than a week, I think—and they were in the thick of a flurrious plot for most of it. But they simply fell short of popping off of the page.

Here’s the oddity. Most of the secondary characters, I’d give five stars. Holland, the hard and humorless White London Antari. His pale, super-creepy twin rulers. Rhy, Red London’s crown prince, and Kell’s adoptive brother, the embodiment of “charming rouge,” but more than that as well. Even the Grey London tavern keeper, and the Red London fencer.

Even with the two main characters at four stars, the book averages out to five stars for me, though, and I eagerly await the release of A Gathering of Shadows, second in the to-be trilogy. Perhaps I’ll find what I was looking for in Kell and Lila there. And if not–there’s sure to be another crop of lines to make me grin. I’ll leave you with these.


Bad magic, Kell had called it.

No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.


He would see her again. He knew he would. Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places. But sometimes, rarely, they were people. For someone who never stood still, Lila felt like a pin in Kell’s world. One he was sure to snag on.


“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”


“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
“Seen what?”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”


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.

Found: Poem

I’ve recently found out about a new way of writing poetry–rather, of spotting it where it hides on the page, like a wordsmith’s version of sculpting. A found poem, it’s called, and it assumed that somewhere on a page of words, a poem is there, hidden in plain sight, and you simply have to black out the words around it until it stands revealed.

I first heard of this notion when my writer bestie showed me this poem of her finding:

I love its simple beauty, and the visual echo of the words as they step their way down through a darkened page…

But this wasn’t a poem for a poem’s own sake. No, no, there was an ulterior motive. Apparently, V.E. Schwab, author of the novel Vicious, (which I have not read, admittedly, but am now intent on doing,) is holding a contest giveaway, in which the winner will get a copy of the book–turned entirely into a single found poem, by the author’s own hand!

How to enter? Turn the opening page of Vicious into a found poem of one’s own. Once I heard of the idea, contest or none, I knew I had to make one of my own. Sorry, bestie-mine, for becoming your competitor, but it’s too lovely to leave alone. And, what the heck, I’d like a found-poemed book.

So I grabbed my marker (metaphorically; literally, I opened a paint program,) and sought my own meaning in the text–if a little differently from when one usually reads a page.

If you’ve a Tumblr and a thick black marker of your own, feel free to join the contest, and beat myself and my friend to some deeper or more meaningful finding in this page:

VICIOUS comes out in paperback this week!!! To celebrate, I have a nefarious plan—I mean giveaway. Take the first page—shown above—and black it out into a found poem. Post it to Tumblr using the hashtag #victorvaleapprovesthisbook by January 30th, and ONE PERSON will win their very own blacked out paperback, the entire book converted into a single message from Victor Vale.

Open internationally.

Have fun.

-V.E. Schwab

Others can be found on Tumblr under #victorvaleapprovesthisbook
Whether or not you wish to join in the fun, I’d suggest you–
Read through the Dark