2022 Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

the red hardcover of vicious in front of a bookshelf

I knew that I was due for a re-read of this book. For those of you who don’t know, Vicious was the first book of V.E. Schwab’s that I read and what started my love for her work.

Seeing it highly recommended from Regan was what got me to buy the book. Years later, I still trust her for recommendations because every time I’ve listened, I’ve enjoyed a book a lot.

Vicious, having been a favorite of mine for years, is obviously something I talk about a lot. I’ve recommended it endlessly to people around me. I wrote a paper on this in college. It was one of the books I posted about a lot when I first started my Bookstagram. Any excuse to talk about this is taken.

There are already two reviews of this on here, one when I first read it and the other when I re-read it for the aforementioned paper. I thought about updating those with each re-read, but it felt like it deserved another individual review. After all, I’ve gotten something different each time.

Going into this re-read was a bit different. I’d already looked into this through a different lens because of the paper, but I thought about it differently again because Maggie asked me to guest star on her podcast about this. It was very official, there were discussion questions and everything.

What resulted was over an hour of me rambling into my phone about my love of Vicious, Victor, and Sydney. In fact, I may have said a couple of inappropriate things that I will absolutely repeat here because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want.

Title: Vicious
Author: V.E. Schwab 
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy
Pub Date: September 24, 2013

Book 2 of 2022
Reading Time: 4 hours & 11 minutes
Date Finished: January 22, 2022

Content Warnings: Murder, attempted murder, torture, attempted murder of a child, PTSD, assisted suicide, drug use, self-harm, death of an animal

What Worked For Me: Found family trope, anti-heroes, morally grey characters, Dol being the best boy
What Didn’t Work For Me: N/A

5/5

The plot of Vicious is that two college pre-med students, Eli and Victor, decide that they want to try giving themselves “superpowers” through scientific experiments and succeed. One became a serial killer and the other went to jail. When Victor decides gets the chance for revenge against Eli, he takes it, determined to let nothing get in his way.

I know this plot so well that sometimes I forget that other people don’t also know it. Especially because I spent so much of my social media time interacting with other people who love books, it’s rare to come across someone who knows nothing about the plot. And yet most people in my real life could not tell you a single thing about this book. Which means I should probably talk about it more.

Going into this reread, I really wanted to focus on things I’ve never noticed before or things I’ve forgotten about from previous reads. Knowing that I was going to share about it on a podcast and that there were discussion questions, that made me think through my reading process a little more.

I took more notes as I read, thought more about the characters and how their interactions affected the plot, generally took my time more as I read through the passages I was so familiar with. It paid off. I noticed a lot of new things, saw things I never saw before, and was able understand the story in a different way.

One of the things that stood out to me more with this reread was V.E. Schwab’s discussion of religion and God within her books. I noticed it first in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue and have been more aware of it ever since. For an atheist, she explores the way people think of and interact with religion in her books. Not in a super heavy manner, but it’s there.

She keeps very much in the middle ground when she explores it. There’s no denouncing that all religion is bad or claiming that religion is the only way to live. Rather, she dives into who people are when they have a faith that leads them through life, how that faith shapes them, and what it means to believe in something so deeply.

I quite enjoy it as a discussion point because it makes me think about my own faith. Where do I fall in her questions and explorations? Having these things brought up by someone outside of my faith makes me think through a different perspective, one that does a lot of good to help me strengthen what I choose to believe in.

As I read this, I noticed that there were several parallels between the characters. I won’t go in depth into them because they’re spoilers, but they were a large part of what I wrote down in my review notes and rambled about in the recording I sent Maggie. I haven’t actually listened to the podcast episode yet (I know, I’m such a bad friend), but I know it was part of the discussion questions and they did touch on it quite a bit.

These parallels made me think about the characters differently, consider their motivations differently. I was more analytical about the relationships between all of them. What I found made me appreciate the effort V.E. Schwab put into Vicious even more. I’ve always said that this was my favorite book of hers, and that still remains true.

The way she chooses to layer her characters are as intricate as how she layers her plots. She’s said before that every character that appears in her books, no matter how minor, gets their story written out. It’s how she makes them feel real and allows herself to better understand their motivations when they’re in her books. It also makes character interactions more dynamic.

Seeing how much there was to each character, how much I hadn’t noticed before, and how that played out throughout the plot, it was like unlocking a puzzle piece I didn’t know was there. Suddenly, so many other things were clearer and it gave me new love for the characters that are already close to my heart.

I mentioned at the top of this blog post that my thoughts around Victor got more inappropriate. I think that’s partly due to me having grown up a lot since first reading the book back in 2017. Twenty-year old me was in a very different stage of life and would not have imagined saying such things about a fictional character so openly, but 2022 me doesn’t care as much.

Basically, Victor is my first love as far as morally grey characters go. This man could do things to me and I’d let him. I know he’s asexual, but there are things I’d be willing to explore with him and only him because Victor is…Victor. Maybe it’s because he has major “I’d burn the world down for you” energy, or it could be that I’m far too single in real life; something about him does it for me.

I wrote about it in a previous blog post featuring many of my fictional boyfriends and what I love about them. It’s a better explanation if you’re looking for one. I know I’m not really making any sense here. Go read that instead if you’re interested.

Rereading Vicious this year was good for me in the sense that it allowed me to be more honest with myself in this area. Never before would I have imagined saying to the Internet that I’d let a fictional character do NSFW things to me, but here I am. Probably going to regret this at some point…

Back to the non-dirty things, something I really enjoy about this book is all the different kinds of relationships featured. We have enemies, friends, lovers, partners, reluctant assistants, and sibling bonds. All of which are unique and written about with great care. A lot of them are meant to parallel each other and unveil something within another relationship in the book. If you look carefully, you’ll be able to see it unfolding.

Particularly, I love the relationship between Victor and Sydney, a child he saves and takes under his wing. Though he’s basically an uncle to her, what they have feels more like a sibling bond. Try as he might to keep her at arm’s length, Victor cares for Sydney in a way that I think reminds him of what being human means. There’s a softness within him that only appears when he speaks to her.

This sibling dynamic is what convinces me that Victor isn’t as bad as he claims to be, or even wants to be. For someone who talks a lot about being a monster, Victor Vale is very much human. Having a preteen in his life forces him to confront the emotional side that he does his best to ignore. One he suppresses because it’s easier to be someone else when he doesn’t have to think about them.

There’s so much more I can say about Vicious but I fear spoiling it if you don’t know the book. If you know me in real life and haven’t picked this up, are we even really friends? Can I call you my friend if you haven’t read it despite how much I talk about my love for it?

Unless you’re one of the few people who I know will NOT like the book. In that case, we’ve talked about this, you get a pass. Otherwise, I truly think it’s a story that most people will enjoy. Bonus points if you like morally grey characters and superheros.

That’s all I have to say about this. Go read Vicious. Go listen to the podcast episode if you’ve already read this book. Message me on social media if you want to talk more about it.

The fact that this was my first V.E. Schwab book and still remains my favorite is something I hold closely. Reading this opened a whole new world of her writing. None of her books are the same, so I get something new and different each time I pick up a new standalone or series. And I’m really glad this was the one I started with.

Vicious has changed a lot of how I think about and interact with books. V.E. Schwab has inspired me greatly to continue pursuing writing no matter what. A lot of what I do now, including Bookstagram and maintaining this blog, are a result of loving what one author had to offer and wanting to be a greater part of that. I will always me thankful to this book for helping me find some of the friends I talk to frequently online.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Thank you again for being on our show! It was so wonderful to have have you and hear your insights as the TRUE Vicious expert. And an extra thank you for being the reason both of us read this book 🙂 One of these days we’ll get you on the podcast live!

    – M

    1. Charmaine Lim

      I was so happy to be on the podcast! I’m sure any live version we do together will be appropriately chaotic and I wait for the day it can happen 😊

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