The sequel to VICIOUS, V.E. Schwab’s first adult novel.
Sydney once had Serena—beloved sister, betrayed enemy, powerful ally. But now she is alone, except for her thrice-dead dog, Dol, and then there’s Victor, who thinks Sydney doesn’t know about his most recent act of vengeance.
Victor himself is under the radar these days—being buried and re-animated can strike concern even if one has superhuman powers. But despite his own worries, his anger remains. And Eli Ever still has yet to pay for the evil he has done.
Me, having absolutely no concept of liking things in moderation: I WOULD DIE A THOUSAND FIERY DEATHS FOR THIS BOOK.
I feel like I need to dress up for reviewing this book, to take it in gratitude for a night out in someplace fancy, to offer it drinks. I’m so full of an unnamed wanting that I can’t bear it—like whatever I will allow to crawl out of my heart and down my arm and out my fingers is not enough.
I first read Vicious a couple years ago, and I completely inhaled it. I read it again last year and afterward, it stayed inside my heart, setting me alight from within like a candle flame. I was beyond excited for this sequel and I think my situation now is rather an object lesson in being careful what you wished for. Because that ending still presses hard into my ribs, making me feel simultaneously warm and sad. I NEED MORE.
So what’s this book about?
Five years have made Victor Vale’s hatred of Eli Cardale lose its spark, its flame dampened by the fear introduced with Victor’s new unsettling reality: he keeps dying, again and again. Victor, it seems, has been torn and broken and put back together with half the pieces missing. He is desperate to not die, and even more than that, to live. In the collision of his whirling thoughts a plan begins to form, an architecture of gruesome messes that Victor will haul out in the hope of suturing himself back together. And Victor’s makeshift family—Sydney, Mitch, Dominic—is a lifeline to be tightly gripped…but things between them are falling apart in direct proportion to the rate at which Victor’s time is swirling away.
Good luck doesn’t seem to be something that holds the hands of Eli Cardale these days either. Captured and imprisoned, he is left tormenting himself with the notion that his most desperate desires are just out of his reach, and one name leaps to mind above and before all others: Victor.
Meanwhile, Marcella Riggins—a new EO—has made theater of murder in the town of Merit. Fear was her medium, and nightmares her art. She refuses to bow to fate and determines to embody the word that defines her: ruin. Marcella has upended the game board and sent the pieces flying, and many would wager that in all of time there had never been a purer wrath than hers. And she’s not alone; on her side is Jonathan, a taciturn human-shield, and June, a shapeshifter whose past is shrouded in secrecy and shadows.
The one thing they all have in common? They’d all put themselves on top of a trapdoor going directly to the bowels of hell…with absolutely no way to unlatch it.
“Power,” said the woman, “belongs to those who take it.”
VENGEFUL is a gripping and a staggeringly satisfying tightrope walk of a book. It’s so damn good. Though I’m not sure you’d call any of the people in it “good.” Within this ornately structured, reality-contorting framework, Schwab weaves together with a sure hand all the separate threads she’s seeded along the way into a resoundingly orchestrated ending that will leave you wondering if healing is even remotely possible.
Schwab wastes no time in bringing readers back into her massive, complex world—smartly beginning to expand her world outward into new dimensions, fleshing out new characters and seeing heads aflame, more than once.
There are so many aspects of this book that leap out to me as brilliant: the introduction of women who were not beholden to the story of the men around them but rather had their own agency on full display, the examination of the grey spaces that exist between traditional definitions of good and evil, the terrifying and exhilarating situations, the whimsy and unsubtle darkness, the varied and wonderful character voices, Schwab’s love of antiheroes and her lilting voice, how she gives her characters power without the moral imperative to be good but does not allow them to slough off their culpability, how this book synthesizes the material in the previous book and gives it a new, different wholeness—all in one perfect book.
There’s also something so captivating about the motley collection of punctured, unpredictable, darkly likeable individuals which makes up the heart of this book. Schwab is a skilled writer with a gift for voice and characterization. She makes every character a concrete individual with a definite presence. My old feelings for the recurring cast came softly thronging back, while I grew fond of new characters. I mean, look, they’re all terrible people, unmoored to any discernible first principles that guide their decision-making and always hoping for cruel ends to justify their brutal means but…¯\_(ツ)_/¯
“Maybe we are broken. But we put ourselves back together. We survived. That’s what makes us so powerful. And as for family—well, blood is always family, but family doesn’t always have to be blood.”
I would take a bullet for my asexual fashionista foster father, Victor Vale. I know he’s all-too-powerful and doesn’t really need me to, but it just feels like the right thing to do.
Victor Vale is one of the most interesting and complex characters I’ve ever come across. Schwab’s building of his character is as careful and subtle and clever as anything—though it’s sometimes easy to miss in the noise and gloss and intensity of his persona.
Victor completely subverts both the hero and anti-hero archetype. He’s willing to do and has done anything to protect those immediately close to him and he is often surprised to find himself possessed by something perilously close to affection for them. But he’s not at all nice or soft—he’s cold and calculating and remorseless and gives an incredible illusion of sanity and stability but you never know what’s going on below his dispassionate mask. A lot of the things he’s done are irredeemable. Yet, you come to understand him deeply without being pushed to erase his past behavior. And while he does change in bursts and clashes (he’s shed enough of his selfishness to carve a place for Syd and Mitch, and he’s even less of a jerk to Dominic), he essentially doesn’t change at all.
Our perception of him does, though. Victor’s desperation and the thrum of fear he’s constantly experiencing at the thought of irreversible death and leaving his family unprotected sort of humanizes him. I lived for those scattered smithereen of grudging vulnerability. Yet, somehow, I still feel like we’ll never know all the carefully cobbled pieces of him. There’s just so much layers to his character and it’s positively riveting.
This is my way of reiterating: I NEED MORE.
Well, he’s alive and well…much to my chagrin.
I haven’t quite parsed out my own relationship to Eli’s character but here’s the thing: part of me wants to believe that maybe, just maybe, the man who’s deception steeped in elegance, from his sharp smile to his unsettling eyes, malefic, hate-ravaged and bent on vengeance, is only a piece of who Eli is.
Because over the course of this book, we are transported by the narrative back to Eli’s childhood and all that youthful hubris and quick-tempered rage and holier-than-thou drivel is swept away to reveal a deeply damaged individual whose life had come to him tangled in hate, and when he’d tried to untangle it, he’d failed. How he got there, and how the youth became this man, is one of this book’s most intriguing mysteries, pulling you ever deeper into the story. Another part of me, though, wishes I could root through my memories and shred my knowledge of his backstory—those years with his father’s vicious, careless cruelties and his mother’s indifferent neglect. Because he’s so horrible. But I can’t.
“Once upon a time, when the marks on his back were still fresh, Eli told himself that he was growing wings. After all, his mother thought Eli was an angel, even if his father said he had the devil in him.”
Also, I feel like I’ll never stop feeling the scorch of acute nostalgia for when Eli and Victor had been better at loving each other, and worse at getting in one another’s way. And it’s frightening—in a really visceral way—the realization that, in the wrong circumstances, anyone might become a monster too.
You know what? I want more Byronic women figures. I want more self-important, reckless women libertines in silk dresses and steel-heeled stilettos leaving a string of broken men in their wake while dashing off threats and coolly bargaining with rivals who wish to gnaw on their souls.
I want more women characters with an utter, unflinching embrace of self who are just on the charming, mercurial side of unlikeable assholes—definitely unreliable and more often than not morally questionable.
“Perhaps she was glass. But glass is only brittle until it breaks. Then it’s sharp.”
To say that Marcella is an intemperate, murderous lunatic would wound the feelings of most intemperate, murderous lunatics. And I am still a bit embarrassed about this next part—as it speaks to a black part of my character—but I would gladly let her step on my throat.
Her character is so fascinating to me. Marcella is a study in brutality, a paragon of sheer and untampered force. She does not take things in, she only spins them around, sharpening them into weapons and recklessly flinging them right back. The men in her life couldn’t accept the idea that women are supposed to be multidimensional. They were happy to have her because they were happy with weakness. The more pliable a leader was, the more power they had. And who could be more pliable than a simple woman, playing at dominance?
But Marcella wielded that ignorance like a finely knapped glass-knife. She is going to play the lead role in the grand cosmic drama, and not merely a bit part with no lines. She pushed back against what the world deicded for her. She required no validation. Her wish was her command. Her voice was her own; she uses it. Her life was her own; she carved a place for it. She was relentless in her dedication to herself. And she would never again allow weakness or softness, fear or ineptitude to hold her frozen. She hadn’t really known yet what she was capable of. And her gift had been untested.
Until it wasn’t.
“How many men would she have to turn to dust before one took her seriously?”
I also have to talk about Mitch and Syd. I love them. I would lay down both of my kidneys for Sydney. And we all know Mitch is so buff because all his muscles are filled with love. He’s probably at the gym, furiously doing weights, and thinking “I’m going to be so fucking good at hugging.” WHAT AN ANGEL.
I’m not gonna lie, the only thing sustaining me right now is the elaborate, self-indulgent fantasy version of a world where Victor, Syd and Mitch are safe and together and away from *gestures vaguely* all this.