I knew at least halfway into this novel that it was going be difficult to write a coherent review for it, which is why I've put it off for the past few hours. If I had read this a year or two ago, I probably would have just rated it and continued on my merry way because I decided it was too hard to organize my thoughts. However, since the beginning of this year, I've tried to write about everything I read, so I'm going to give it a shot. My only other experience with reading this author's work comes from The Archived, which I actually picked up pretty recently. I ended up adoring Schwab's writing style and the way she added depth to her characters, so there was little doubt in my mind that I would like Vicious. I did not expect to like it more. I was immediately intrigued by the summary when I first happened across it, but for some reason I got super excited for its release beforehand - which was why I was happy my bookstore got it a few days early. I don't usually like orange covers (the color has never appealed much to me), but it has almost a comic book feel to it, which goes really well with the superhero/villain theme of the story. The picture itself is a bit random, though - it's just Victor standing on his hotel balcony with a drink in his hand (though if you look closely you can see it's bleeding - he breaks the glass in the book).
Vicious is not particularly engrossing right off the bat. For the first few chapters, it's just a good book. I was enjoying it, mostly due to the writing - it's so beautiful and lyrical. I know this sounds extremely cheesy, but the words all come together in this magical harmony that's practically mesmerizing. So since that in itself is enough to keep someone reading, I was having no problems with it. However, once I got past the beginning and really got immersed in what was going on, it became almost impossible to put down. Schwab builds tension masterfully without dragging it out painfully and unnecessarily. I practically raced to the end to see Eli and Victor's final clash, because I just had to know how it ended. Among the many high points of the novel (besides the pacing and the writing), you have the characters. In the hands of a different author, I can see how they would have fallen flat - they easily could have. After all, both of the main characters are - in a way - evil. There is no clear-cut hero to root for, no black and white to be seen, but many shades of gray in between. The reader is left to decide who to root for even though both men have done horrible things.
Personally, I favored Victor. It was very strange to feel that way, though, because of the two, Victor is more of your standard villain. By that I mean, he's very intelligent with it comes to scheming and he doesn't feel a lot of basic human emotions (such as empathy, and possibly love?). Those two things combined really should be enough to hate him. However, despite all the bad things he did throughout the book, I could not but help wishing he would succeed in his attempt to get revenge on Eli. There was a passage somewhere towards the end of the story where it basically says that dying pretty much killed all of Victor's "softer" emotions (not that he was the most sympathetic guy before), but his brain did recognize the fact that murdering innocent people was wrong, so at least that's something to work with. Eli was the opposite of Victor in many ways. For one, he's a people person, very friendly with everyone. He's always smiling, people gravitate towards his personality, and he's kind of religious. Of course, in the end, none of that stuff made him any less crazy. He convinces himself that it's his responsibility to eliminate EOs after an incident that happens concerning Victor in school. I didn't care nearly as much about him because he seemed a little eviler to me, but like I said before, neither of these guys are saints.
The story constantly switches time periods. Sometimes we're in the past with Victor and Eli as the story from back then slowly unfolds and the reader starts to understand what caused the friendship between them to go sour and why they are now trying to kill each other. Sometimes we're in the present, getting closer and closer to the epic climax. And sometimes we're exploring different characters, like Serena, Sydney or Mitch. Most of the time I find it annoying when a book does this, but it works very well here and I loved how I only got bits and pieces of information at a time - it was like a puzzle. None of the side characters were pointless and they all had an important role to play. Sydney stars off as being pretty timid and naive, but by the end she's super strong and I loved her for it. Mitch seems very unlovable from the outside, but once I learned his story I was very sympathetic towards him and loved his personalty.
I never exactly grew to like Serena (though I don't think I was supposed to), but in the end I guess I appreciated how she was merciful towards her sister despite all the bad things she had done. When she first partners up with Eli, she basically calls him a hypocrite, and I wonder why she changed her mind so drastically and decided to help him. Maybe it was because she was scared of him killing her? But then I don't get why she was somewhat involved with him romantically. The concept was pretty cool - the idea of EOs was definitely interesting, and I can picture people going to drastic lengths to gain superpowers. The ending was very satisfying - there's absolutely no room for a sequel, no loose ends left lying around. While I'm glad to have an amazing standalone novel, I wish that it didn't end there because I grew so attached to the characters. Vicious ended up being so much more than I hoped for, and I would highly recommend it to anyone (even if you're not into comic book stuff at all). It's also an adult book - I've seen people shelving it as young adult, and I hope no one picks it up thinking that. There are a lot of dark scenes and I wouldn't want a fainthearted person to read it - the parts where Victor and Eli attempt to become EOs in particular are a little uncomfortable.
5 solid stars