Vicious by V. E. Schwab (Villains, #1)
Vicious is a revenge/retribution story with a scientific and repeatable version of superheroes, a little bit heist-y. It's clever and fun, built around a strange friendship that goes very wrong when Victor refuses to be a sidekick to Eli's hero.
I love this book, I had a grin on my face for most of the time I was reading it. It's dark, but never really grim, somehow. There's a fair amount of death with just the right amount of gruesome. The backstory/prequel narrative is layered into the present day so that every point feels timely, every detail is a breather from the rising action without losing the plot. There's tenderness in Victor's darkness, a certain schadenfreude in watching Eli squirm as reality gets in the way of his plans. Sydney has just the right balance of actual kid and horror-film creepy child, Mitch supplies a refreshing upheaval and discussion of specific criminal stereotypes, and Serena would have been so easy to play as vapid with no redeeming qualities, but the book takes time to have us understand her too.
I appreciated how each character has the space to have their own opinion on the ExtraOrdinaries. There's a nuanced discussion of the side-effects for this particular method of gaining powers, with even the EO's themselves disagreeing on what it all means. It makes it feel very grounded and human, at its heart this is a story about a pair of friends whose relationship went very sour very dramatically. I could see how everyone came to their conclusions, even though I don't agree with them all (nor would it really be possible to at one time).
It's also a superhero story that didn't inundate the plot with heroes and descriptions of powers. There's definitely a place for that, and I hope to get more in the sequel, but that restraint is part of why this feels more like soft sci-fi with a superhero twist, rather than a more straightforward "people with random powers" narrative. The approach to EO's was scientific, specifically so. At least, it was experimental with a very loose application of the scientific method that wouldn't fly in a real study. Part of that impatience, moving past the guidelines they'd set almost as soon as they'd set them, made it really feel like what a bunch of young college-age friends with a little bit of a good idea and no sense of their own vulnerability would attempt. It didn't break the suspension of disbelief because the world was internally consistent, though I'm sure anyone who does scientific experiments for a living would have much harsher words for them.
I love heist stories, which is at least part of why I loved this book. While this wasn't precisely a heist narrative, it has a lot of that energy, that group of tropes that combine to say that sneaky and cool things are happening here.
*I'm no longer planning to read the sequel.
CW for gun violence, suicide, major character death, death.
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