Superhero fiction is packed with characters who are polar opposites, but for complicated reasons, they are inextricably linked forever. Take Reed Richards and Victor von Doom, for example, or Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. Harvey Dent, Mr. Two-Face himself, even embodies this duality in one handy package.
You can find the same type of character dynamic in Victoria Schwab’s latest novel too. Only in this case, instead of superhero vs. supervillain, we get two supervillains pecking at each other like cocks of the walk. And why not? The world is a tainted place with lots of bad people in it. The author even begins her novel by quoting poet Joseph Brodsky. “Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse.”
Like Reed Richards and Victor von Doom, Eli Cardale and Victor Vale first bump into each other in college. But unlike Richards and von Doom, the pair don’t pledge allegiance to any hero or villain fraternity. They’ve got other things on their mind.
While doing a little research for his college thesis, Eli figures out a way to turn himself into an EO (that’s the author’s term for superhuman—ExtraOrdinary). Victor likes what he sees and won’t rest until he becomes an EO too. For the rest of their lives, the pair are bonded by blood, death, and science.
But Schwab’s story is more complex than a random issue of Fantastic Four. Her novel is about two lonely kids who have a perverse sense of morality and ambition. To complicate things even further, she also includes a big dollop of jealousy, self-hatred, and betrayal in her novel as well.
At some point even Eli and Victor get confused about their situation. Who was the hero and who was the villain in their rivalry? They didn’t even know. For them, language was inadequate. The words people used to describe them—human, monster, hero, villain—it was all just a matter of semantics. “Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing people,” says Victor. “And someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them.”
The author has written a wonderful book with two horrible creatures as her protagonists. It is a remarkable achievement. If we had to pick, we’d say Victor might be the slightly nicer character because he avoids killing innocent bystanders and feels a modicum of regret for his heinous behavior. But believe us, he’s no peach. There are no good men in this game. Eli and Victor fight a war that can’t be won. And surprisingly, that’s great news for the reader.
[Vicious / By V.E. Schwab / First Printing: September 2013 / ISBN: 9780765335340]