A Drug I Need More of Right Now: VE Schwab’s ‘Vicious’

A Drug I Need More of Right Now: VE Schwab’s ‘Vicious’

This is a deliciously dark book. Like steaming fillet steak soaked in peppercorn sauce with roast potatoes, buttered runner beans, and a glass of Merlot delicious.

You know you’re reading Schwab by the second sentence, when the slender figure of Victor Vale sweeps through a cemetery at night, his billowing trench coat brushing the tops of the tombstones.

She is truly the Queen of ambience. Just sip some red wine, crackling fire on one side, sleeping wolf on the other, and let that glorious Schwabian imagery shiver off the page.

I’d been dying to read Vicious for months and months before finally picking it up a few days ago. My one main indulgence of recreational reading during the last year of my degree was her Shades of Magic and Monsters of Verity series, which, as those who’ve read them can attest, are both soul-achingly phenomenal, but for one reason or another I’d been saving Vicious. I just had a feeling I was going to utterly adore it, like in a soft sinister cackle kind of way. So I grudgingly positioned it as the carrot at the end of exams (along with my first full binge of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). And, reader, I finished the last page this afternoon over a cup of tea in Trafalgar Square.

Sanct, is it delicious.

Drawn by scent-melted

Vicious opens with two supernatural humans unearthing a corpse in the cemetery of the fictional city of Merit. Victor is ghostly, imperious, pale, with white-blonde Spike-esque hair and an acute affinity with and control over the sensations of living beings around him tangled into his pulse. In the same breath, we learn both that Vic has just escaped from jail and that the 13 year old girl he is with has just been shot.

Eleven-like Sydney Clarke hangs on his every word and is undoubtedly the scene-stealer of the book.

The cast is completed by the towering tattooed computer genius Mitch whose unassuming appearance curses him with a life behind bars, the frosty seductress Serena Clarke, Sydney’s massive hound Dol, a handful of impressionable police officers and college acquaintances, and Victor’s best friend-cum-arch nemesis, Eliot Cardale. Eli is just as much of a Slytherin as Victor, but has a different secondary house, hiding his morbid fascination with the monstrous behind a congenial facade of good looks and affable charm, that is until he dies and morphs into a murderous zealot obsessed with his crusade against other unnatural EOs.

This pursuit of EOs, or ExtraOrdinaries, begins as a college thesis, into which Victor is drawn. And while Eli discovers the precise combination of trauma and fear needed to trigger these supernatural mutations in people who go through near-death experiences, it is Victor who comes up with the idea to attempt to create one, to become one.

And so the epic rivalry is born.

The Thai cover!

Never have I read a novel that so gleefully delves into the psyches of anti-heroes. The nature of the EO mutation renders any understanding of morality and empathy inert by virtue of the fact that death removes fear. This innate absence is felt by each of our EOs, with chocolate milk-loving Mitch being the only one still attuned to his humanity.

V navigates these nuances around morality and mortality with the same intensity as one of my favourite EVER shows, The OA, which also explores NDEs.

That philosophical grittiness combines with the rich comic book-vibe to birth a monster of a book as beautiful as it is addictive.

Vicious is a drug I need more of NOW. And the fact that V chose this gif to encapsulate the impending sequel Vengeful… suffice it to say, be still beating heart.

Spoilers Ahead, Please Stop Reading If You’re Uninitiated

My favourite quote of the book?

“Still, she wrapped her arms around her sister, and when her sister hugged back, Sydney felt as if broken threads, hundreds and hundreds of them, were stitching the two back together. Something in her started to thaw.”

I just can’t with Syd’s yearning to be with Serena, with the pain she endures when her big sister conspires to murder her, with the fact that the one burning thought that sustained her through death itself was “come back”. This quote cut me to the QUICK because it is exactly how I feel every time I’m reunited with my sister. Broken threads stitching back together. A soul-deep thawing.

Doesn’t V just kill you when she does that, takes your most intense feelings and shapes them into actual literal words? WHAT IS THIS MAGIC.

Syd’s power is also probably my favourite of them all, especially combined with her age, and general size and bearing. I get the same evil glee when she defies people’s expectations and thinks dark thoughts as I do from Eleven when she kicks ass. She also reminds me of Amy from Justin Cronin’s The Passage, a sweeping vampire saga to sink your teeth into if you haven’t already.

If I could digitally paint I would be falling over myself to illustrate the scene in the high-rise at the end when little blonde blue-eyed Syd in her too-big red coat creeps through the plastic sheets of the construction site, silenced pistol tight in both hands, enormous black dog by her side.

She also has another of my favourite quotes right at the end when she prepares to revive Victor.

“She readjusted the shovel on her shoulder, and wondered if Eli would live forever, and how much of forever someone could reasonably remember, especially when nothing left a mark.”

Ugh, I LOVE. Because this is one of my obsessions with immortal characters, or characters who can surpass the human life-span or defy ageing.

How much of forever could someone reasonably remember, especially when nothing left a mark?

This is perennially fascinating to me given the plethora of romances written between MCs and supernaturals, like Buffy/Angel and Bella/Edward (to name just two human/vampire pairings). Hell, I have one in my current WIP, an ageless god who toils for two centuries before becoming trapped inside the mind of the human boy he will fall in love with. Because riddle me this… if you looked, say, 21 years old forever, if you were treated like a 21 year old, experienced life as a 21 year old, devoid of all the insights and characterisations that come with progressing through tiers of age, and the physicality of it all, the deterioration of body and mind and stamina and energy, then how different are you really from the 21 year old your author sets you up with?

While we don’t seemingly have a problem with such a romance involving a 90 year old mind in a 20 year old body, we probably would if that 90 year old mind came with a 90 year old body and then got it on with a 20 year old body, if only because of all the societal baggage we bring along as the reader. So that caveat Syd ponders, if “nothing left a mark”, just nails everything for me about such a thought-train.

Also, a shout-out to the ornate structure of this book. V skips back and forth between the present night, Victor and Eli’s experiences at college 10 years ago, Eli’s relationship with Serena beginning 1 year ago, Victor and Mitch’s experiences in jail over these intervening years, Sydney’s encounter with her sister 2 nights ago, and then the countdown to Victor and Eli’s confrontation at midnight, and it all links together beautifully. I now understand though why she rewrote the entirety of Vengeful earlier this year. If it’s even half as complex as Vicious it was likely torturous to knit together.

Speaking of Vengeful, I was really hoping that Serena would survive just because I’m so enamoured with her mind-control and her paradoxical obsession with anyone who can defy it. Also I wanted to see her relationship with Syd explored even further. But, alas, flames. So now I’m really really hoping the vengeance of the title will refer to Syd’s attitude towards Victor when she discovers he was the one who slit Serena’s throat, because right now she thinks it was Eli. As for the latter, I’m totally cool with him just rotting away in jail. Obviously I enjoyed witnessing the breakdown of his humanity and his spiral into fanaticism, but I’m just less interested in him as a character, probably because his motivations are religious.

V tweeted something about there being three female leads though, WHICH MAKES ME GIDDY.

So…

BRING.

ON.

THE WOMEN.

Drawn by Ree

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