Review: Vicious by Victoria Schwab

Vicious by V. E. Schwab | Audible Inc, 2013

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.

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YA Double Shot: The 5th Wave and The Archived

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave received a big marketing push before it’s release and rightfully so; it is an engaging,  entertaining story, with definite mass appeal and absolutely crying for a film version. It is also a book rife with problems and one that doesn’t quite live up to its own expectations.  The titular 5th Wave refers to the 5th stage of an invasion by a mysterious alien threat. Earth’s population has already been decimated by the first four waves; each successive stage whittling  down human resistance. The novel focus on a Cassie a young survivor who escaped the first four waves with her family but who now finds herself on her own after some rather tragic events. Cassie makes the rather rash decision to find and rescue her younger brother and in doing so sets off a chain of events that will reveal the mystery of the 5th Wave.

The 5th Wave’s premise grabbed me right from the start. I’m a sucker for invasion stories and from that standpoint Yancey’s novel crafts a frightening and fascinating vision of a potential invasion.  The plans of the mysterious aliens are smart if a bit complicated but still makes for some fun reading. The bond between Cassie and her family is a strong one and some of the novel’s strongest elements rise out of that fact. In fact, while I was consistently entertained throughout the novel I found Cassie’s memories of her family (often told in flashbacks) a far more compelling story than the one that is being told in the present. The strength of those memories and Cassie’s emotional bond with those memories and her family resonated rather strongly while I was reading. They resonated so strongly in fact that the romantic elements of the story, namely Cassie’s attraction to Evan Walker, fell completely flat. Indeed, there were times where the romantic connection between the two characters felt more like editorial mandate than anything the author really wanted to do. While Evan certainly plays an essential role in the plot in helping Cassie get to her brother the connection between he and Cassie just feels forced.

The 5th Wave is certainly an entertaining novel and I’m not positive that teen readers would feel the same about the romantic elements in the novel as I do.  Despite the faltering romance I found myself consistently engaged by the novel and invested in the fate of Cassie and her brother. The novel feels like it occasionally loses focus but despite this Yancey does a rather splendid job of envisioning a world ravaged by an alien invasion. I’m definitely interested in seeing where this story goes.

If the The 5th Wave is the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer action spectacle then Victoria Schwab’s  The Archived is the Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton equivalent. Subtle, dark and wonderfully imagined The Archived lacks much of the flash of The 5th Wave but doubles down on the heart. The Archived is a novel about death and grieving. Mackenzie Bishop is still reeling from the death of her younger brother and her parent’s decision to move to an old hotel converted into an apartment complex and open up a coffee shop isn’t helping her grieving process very much. Complicating things a bit further is the fact that Mackenzie know what happens when you dies. She works for The Archive, a mystical place that much like a library, houses the dead now called Histories. Mackenzie is a Keeper and her job isn’t a particularly relaxing one. Tasked with returning those Histories who wake up and wander the world, often with violent results, her job is both mentally and physically exhausting.

The Archived by Vistoria Schwab Dinsey/Hyperion, 2013

If The Archived has proved anything about fascination with YA fiction it’s that I’m drawn to fiction which features death as a major theme. The Graveyard Book, The Death Watch, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Anna Dressed in Blood all stand alongside The Archived as YA novel’s I’ve enjoyed which spend a considerable amount of time discussing, often directly, the nature of death and grieving.  I don’t know what the says about me but regardless of that fact The Archived does a moving job a conveying Mackenzie’s sense of loss and her struggle to deal with her brother’s death. While it is often discussed directly in the novel it is important to note that even in those moment’s when it isn’t discussed Mackenzie’s grief looms in the background never quite out of sight.

Schwab smartly sticks to Mackenzie as the reader’s “in” for her world and focuses on Mackenzie’s personal struggle. What the reader learns about the Archive is strictly limited to what Mackenzie learned and Schwab manages to convey the sensation that we only learn what we do because it is being remembered as Mackenzie works through her feelings of loss, not only resulting from the loss of her brother but also the loss of Grandfather; the man who trained her and brought her into the Archive. The Archived tells a taught suspenseful tale and every scene feels laden with history and import as Mackenzie slowly unravels the mystery behind who, or what, has been deliberately waking up (often altering) Histories. Schwab is an author to watch and I definitely recommend people looking for a unique, thrilling, and emotionally engaging tale of fantasy fiction give The Archived a shot.