2013’s Vicious is the first volume in V. E. Schwab’s Villains series.
ExtraOrdinary (EO) people are the stuff of rumours. That doesn’t stop ambitious college students Eli and Victor from trying their hand at artificially inducing EOs. The key seems to be near-death experiences, which are easy enough to orchestrate provided one has no professional ethics and less caution.
EOs do exist and Eli and Victor’s method does work. Which is how Eli and Victor got their powers, why Victor spent a decade in prison, and why as the book opens Victor and his new friend Sydney are digging up a dead body.
Eli clawed his way back from death with his prodigious regenerative abilities. Victor, whose NDE was extremely painful, emerged with the ability to detect, suppress and (with practice) augment nerve activity. Virtually the first thing Victor did with his new power was accidentally kill Victor’s friend and Eli’s girlfriend Angie.
Angie’s death (and the fact Victor is as contrite about Angie’s death as might be expected of Victor von Doom) convinced Eli that EO abilities, save perhaps for his, are demonic in nature and that all EOs come back from the grave terribly broken. He knew what he needed to do. Step one was arranging for Victor’s arrest and conviction for murder. Step two was hunting down and killing every EO Eli could find.
A decade later, Victor and his intimidatingly large hacker friend Mitch take their leave of the prison system. Item one on Victor’s to do list: find Eli and pay him back for that lost decade.
Chance puts thirteen-year-old EO Sydney in Victor’s path. Sydney is an EO, one who narrowly escaped death at Eli’s hands. Her power to bring the dead back to life will be very useful to Victor.
Victor is cold, smart, implacable, and focused on revenge. Eli is just as smart and also unkillable. Victor has Mitch and Sydney to help him. Eli has Sydney’s sister Serena, an EO whose voice compels obedience. Thanks to Serena, Eli has an entire mesmerized police department on his side.
It might seem a little shocking that Victor isn’t all that upset about killing someone by accident. However, Victor was already a bit irritated by the way Angie and Eli’s romance interfered with Victor and Angie’s friendship. He was peeved that the first round of experiments gave Eli powers but not Victor. “Victor Vale was not a fucking sidekick” after all. Really, wasn’t Angie’s death Eli’s fault for not offering to help Victor with the second attempt to imbue Victor with powers?
Killing someone who can regenerate is always a bit tricky — although you cannot go wrong starting with a blast furnace and then working one’s way up to a thermonuclear fireball1—but I have no doubt that as smart as Victor is, he could find a way. Too bad for Eli that this is not Victor’s actual goal. Victor wants to be in a position to dole out pain and punishment as long as he pleases. The dead do not suffer.
There may be superheroes somewhere in this universe, but there are none in this book. This is the story of two villains — three villains, actually, because Serena definitely counts as a villain — and their (often sympathetic, particularly Sydney) allies and patsies, all of them carrying out a decade-long grudge match. Victor has some positive aspects, Eli very much does not. Nor does Serena, who shares with Eli a conviction that EOs are better off dead combined with a marked disinclination to apply that moral to herself2.
If you’re looking for a story of society’s stalwarts, folks who rescue kittens from trees and orphans from burning buildings, who take down criminals and intercept killer asteroids, you’d have to look elsewhere. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a struggle between bad and much worse, a self-declared villain and an extremely deluded would-be hero, then consider Vicious.
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1: Or if they really are unkillable but don’t have super-strength, consider immobilization. Even if convincing someone to send the immortal into deepest space is not an option, you may be able to encase the regenerator in cement and insert them into a subduction zone. [Editor’s note: cement didn’t work against Captain Jack in the Torchwood TV series; but he had a lover to dig him up.]
2: Serena isn’t hanging around Eli just to help him wipe out America’s EO population. Once per day she orders him not to kill her. She could try running but no doubt he would shake off her last command and track her down and she does not want to die just yet.
She could order Eli not to kill anyone just as easily as she commands him not to kill her. Not only has she not done that, she lured her sister Sydney into what was intended to be a death-trap.