Vicious by V. E. Schwab
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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?”
It’s been interesting to watch the glut of superhero movies, books and comics that have come out in the past several years. I’m sure there are many reasons for the resurgence of their popularity, but you can’t deny that there’s a certain kind of satisfaction in seeing the good guys defeat the bad guys in flashy and often explosive ways. But of course, we also love heroes with a dark side, such as Batman, and that fondness can lead to books like Vicious.
This is a story in which the term “good guy” doesn’t apply. The most that anybody in this novel achieves is the ability to not be overtly evil, and mostly they exist in a moral gray area where they do what they must to survive without ever getting into heroics. This is definitely a case of power corrupting, especially when it comes to Eli, who descends into the mindset of a psychopathic killer. Victor doesn’t go that far, but he does learn to rationalize some of what his powers can do.
The corruption of power is also demonstrated in a different form with Sydney and Serena, sisters who both acquire superpowers at the same time. Each of them is portrayed as hating the abilities that they’ve gained and despising themselves for having them. The novel seems to present this as the question of whether or not you can come to be tired of being special. This is more prominent in Serena’s storyline—I liken her power to the kinds of situations enjoyed by the most popular kid in class or a pampered movie star.
I enjoyed the way the plot splits time between the past and the present, unfolding the history of each of the characters as you watch them heading towards a final confrontation. Since the number of characters is kept to a minimum, there’s plenty of time to let each of them develop and find their own unique places in the story. As the novel goes on, the action gets more and more intense, with a dark edge that should keep readers engaged until the last page.
While there’s no denying the appeal of good vs. evil, there’s a lot of fascinating things to be found in the shades of gray that are closer to real life. Vicious is a very different kind of superhero tale, one that makes you wonder what you would do if you were given an amazing ability. Beyond just being a great action story, Schwab’s book brilliantly delves into the moral implications of being more than a normal human.