Vicious is one of those novels that is like a delicious but tough piece of steak: difficult to chew, but appetising to the palette. It begins slowly, with segment of the novel out of chronological order, a writing tactic that is both frustrating for easy reading, but also intriguing. Intriguing, because the incorrect sequencing of the novel’s chronology leads the reader to wonder why the events at the beginning occurred in the way they did.
While Vicious may not be V.E. Schwab’s best book, as A Darker Shade of Magic and its sequels are clearly better works of fiction, it stands well on its own. Other novels have tackled the anti-hero genre of superhero stories in some capacity – however, not quite in the way that Vicious handles its subject matter.
The plot follows two college roommates as they proceed to test and develop their hypotheses about creating metahumans. This leads into the two testing their hypothesis with deadly effects – developing powers which mirror their personalities. Yet, where one of the two new ‘superheroes’ or ExtraOrdinary Persons (EOs) as the novel refers to them believes that all other EOs must die, the other believes they must live, leading to an incredible battle between the two roommates that is on one hand a personal college drama, and on the other a battle of human faith for the soul.
As a work of science fiction, tackling the concept of superhuman individuals, Vicious is one of the finer novels available on the subject. While there are plenty of Marvel or DC graphic novels available that are populated with anti-heroes, and while Brandon Sanderson wrote an excellent series on evil metahumans in The Reckoners (beginning with Steelheart) there are few other works that tackle the anti-hero from this particular perspective and for fans of the superhero genre it is definitely a novel worth reading.