By V.E. Schwab
Published by Titan Books
When two friends find a way to acquire superpowers, events will never turn out smooth. When these friends are intelligent, competitive, driven individuals, the top pre-med students at their college, whose friendship is shattered by acquiring their superpowers, their lives and the lives of many other people will be adversely affected. Victoria Schwab has written a gripping, thrilling adventure that you can easily see as a film (and so could other people, because it has already been optioned).
The story starts in the present day, with Victor Vale digging up a coffin, before jumping back to 10 years ago, at the fictional Lockland University, where he met Eliot ‘Eli’ Cardale. Both are very smart, although Eli is the more charming and extrovert compared with Victor’s introversion, but they become good friends anyway. The events in the book begin in their Comprehensive Science Seminar, a general course that they need to take, and the declaration of their thesis for the course: Eli says that his will be ‘EOs’, short for ‘ExtraOrdinaries’, the term used to describe people with unusual abilities in this world. (The book acknowledges superheroes and references a few, but exists primarily in its own universe. For example, nobody at all mentions the fact that Victor Vale sounds incredibly similar to Vicki Vale, the Kim Basinger character from Tim Burton’s Batman, which I found incredibly hard to believe.)
EOs seem to exist on an urban legend level, with mentions of the phenomena on websites and forums, late-night television ‘exposes’ of possibilities; however, Eli wants to believe they exist and therefore are either born or created. If they can be created, how are they created? And can that creation be replicated? His research has led him to the conclusion that trauma, specifically trauma leading to a near death experience, along with the genetic disposition and a strong will to survive the near death experience, will create an ExtraOrdinary. With Victor on board with the idea, the two decide that they can try to create EOs – themselves – using controlled suicide and returning to life. Victor is the first to try but unsuccessfully; Eli goes next and succeeds, acquiring the ability to heal from any injury; Victor is jealous and tries again but without Eli’s help, which leads to an accident that changes their lives for ever and leads to Victor spending the next 10 years in prison.
The chapters switch between the past and present, as Victor has broken out of jail with his cellmate, Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Turner, and befriending a 13-year-old girl called Sydney, who is also an EO with the power to return the dead to life. Meanwhile, Eli has decided that EOs are returned with part of their soul missing and therefore an affront to God and has been killing all those he could find, with the exception of Sydney’s older sister, Serena, who has a siren-like ability to control the thoughts and actions of others. The chapters in the past provide backstory for the characters and the events as they unfold, with the second half of the book focusing mostly on the build-up and eventual meeting of our two protagonists, with Victor eager to extract vengeance on his former friend.
This is a solid, fast-paced, crime-revenge thriller. The prose is slick, assured, confident – it tells the story cleanly and clearly, without adornment, in a solid thriller style that makes the story easy to read. There are not many characters in the book, and not just because Eli is killing off all the EOs he can find, so it is focused and driven. The resolution is satisfying, although it does depend on which of the unpleasant main characters the reader dislikes the most in that regard; neither is really a hero or villain in the normal sense, although the story is told from Victor’s point of view for most of the book, thus lending his character some empathy.
The book concentrates on the trope in comic books of the characters knowing each other before acquiring their superpowers and how that affects their relationship after acquiring their powers. (There is also, unfortunately, a ‘woman in a refrigerator’ trope included in the book, which is a shame from a female writer.) Vicious doesn’t change the way you see superheroes – this is a crime/revenge thriller done with superpowers, something that’s been done before and will be again, with pseudoscience explanation of EOs to give the sheen of reality, although there is no explanation of why or how the effectively magical powers are acquired or how they work. How does Eli heal? How does Vic’s pain thing work? Is Serena a telepath or are the sound waves of her voice affecting a part of the brain connected to the audio sensors? How can Sydney bring back the dead? Ultimately, that’s not relevant in a tense, well-written, exciting adventure that is compelling and keeps you reading.
Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.