I seriously enjoyed Victoria Schwab’s The Archived so I decided to give her adult novel Vicious a spin. At its most superficial Vicious is a novel about people with superpowers and how those power affect their lives. Upon close inspection Vicious is in truth a deconstruction of a superhero mythos wrapped up in a careful psychological character study of two very similar men. The comic book fan in me can’t help but note the similarities in Vicious’ story to the history between the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards and his own arch-nemesis Victor Von Doom. While Vicious’ Eli and Victor are friends at the start of the novel their is a toxicity and volatility to their relationship that makes their eventual conflict feel almost inevitable.
Vicious‘ plot unfold across multiple time periods ranging from 10 years earlier to the months, weeks, and days leading up to the present. Victor is the protagonist of Vicious and Schwab does a splendid job of giving reader a glimpse inside his head. It is readily apparent, early in the in novel the Victor Vale (nice nod to the funny books with the alliteration) is a sociopath with some severe family issues. I loved the little touches to Victor’s personality particular his art: defacing the works of his self-help author parents with a sharpie to change the meaning of their words. There is some wonderful synergy to Victor’s seeming compulsion to deface his parent’s work that speaks to the malleability of perspective that belies the immutability of the written word. Victor’s college roommate, Eli is also something of a sociopath however Schwab never lets readers in his head the same way she does with Victor. Once readers are finally given a glimpse inside Eli’s mind it has already grown too difficult to separate the truth from Victor’s previous observations. Given the psyche of both the lead characters Schwab does a fantastic job of make both Victor and Eli’s perspectives on the world equally viable versions of the truth.
There is really no “heroism” in Vicious both Victor and Eli are men whose own needs supersede anything even remotely resembling the greater good. Schwab examines how deeply flawed individuals may react to the sudden manifestation of power. She places that power in the hands of men to whom altruism is a seemingly foreign concept and then takes that idea to its logical, and bloody, conclusion. Despite the seemingly simple premise of Vicious, Schwab has created a complex and engaging novel. Victor is an astoundingly complex character who despite his seeming lack of empathy remains easy to root for. That being said Vicious is a bleak novel. By and large the characters, plot and tone of the novel do not help engender feelings of goodwill towards man and the questions it raises resonate with a discomforting atonal quality. I think that speaks in Vicious’ favor.
Vicious is a clever, enthralling story that while somewhat familiar to those rooted in the world of the comics manages to tell a story in an original manner. Schwab’s ability to craft believable characters is integral to the novel’s plot and while the novel’s protagonist might not be the most noble of individuals there is a certain entrancing charm to his personality that pulls readers in. The audiobook edition of Vicious is quite excellent and narrator Noah Michael Levine definitely elevates the narrative with his distinct portrayals of both Victor and Eli. Schwab, a relatively new author, has an accomplished voice all her own and she is definitely someone to keep an eye on.