Vicious (Villains #1) by V.E. Schwab

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Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse. —Joseph Brodsky

Friends, Vicious is a book that totally surprised me in the best of ways. I’ve owned this book for months but was kind of afraid to read because of the hype and my lukewarm/conflicted feelings about the Shades of Magic trilogy, but when I impulse bought the Limited Special Edition OwlCrate for Vengeful and decided that it was about time that I give this book a try… and I am so glad that I did because I loved it! If you enjoy morally gray characters and anti-heroes like I do, this definitely is a book for you.

Vicious is told in the perspectives of Eli and Victor, who are former college roommates turned enemies, I really enjoyed the storytelling overall: the narrative shifts between present-day and ten years prior, meaning that the reader is thrust into the present with little context and slowly discovers what happened to turn friends into foes. I found this to be incredibly engaging and I was more invested in uncovering how the friendship broke down and led to the events of present day for our characters. One of my notes from 19% says “I so want to know how the friendship fell apart. This is written so well” and I loved how full the characters are… and how I understood the motives for each of them. one of my favorite literary devices is being thrust into the present day and seeing what happened to get us there through flashbacks, and it is executed so well here. I also really love the friends-to-enemies trope, but then again, I like my characters to essentially go through rough situations and grow from them.

This is a world where no one is innocent, yet they each feel justified in their actions. Morally speaking it’s a choice of Bad and Worse, and the reader is left to decide whose actions are most justified. Jealousy, self-righteousness, self-preservation, loyalty, betrayal… each character has a driving force that motivates them in Vicious, and they are all very well crafted.

Our main characters:

🔪 Victor Vale is not a fucking sidekick”; his belief in probability, science, and chance guide him and he has difficulty with religious faith.
🔪 Eli Cardale/Ever “was precocious, and frighteningly charming, the kind of guy who got away with everything, thanks to good genes and quick wits”; his belief and faith in God guides his life and his actions.
🔪 We also have Mitch Turner and Sydney Clarke, both of whom are absolute cinnamon rolls and I adore them wholeheartedly. And let’s honest here: the banter between Mitch, Sydney, and Victor cracked me up and I lived for it.
🔪 Lastly we have Serena Clarke, Sydney’s older sister and most certainly not a cinnamon roll.

This is definitely a character-driven story with a very interesting world that kind of reminds me of the tv series Heroes. I do wish that there was more world-building and an explanation of EOs in the context of the world Victor and Eli live in. When Eli presented his thesis topic it almost appeared like a joke; however, as the plot progressed it is hinted that EOs were a thing even before the thesis. How long had the term been coined? How much did the public know in that ten-years ago period?

The crux of the battle is the whole “us versus them” mentality and the dehumanizing the “enemy” to justify your own actions. But who is the enemy? Who is in the wrong? In this story – and in life – it depends on the side that you are on.

“You don’t understand,” he said. “I’m trying to protect people.”
She smiled behind her coffee. It wasn’t a happy smile. “Which people?”

Serena plays an interesting foil to Eli in this way and brings out an interesting philosophical argument for the reader to consider if they choose.

Overall I found Vicious to be a fast-paced and engaging fantasy story with amazingly deep and flawed characters. While my little world-building heart wish that more information had been presented on the history of the EOs in the context of the world, it didn’t really hinder my enjoyment of this story at all. I honestly cannot recommend this book enough and am looking forward to reading Vengeful if my reading slump ever ends.

cw: overdose, suicide, death, revenge, murder

🤝 Buddy read with Jen from Pinot and Pages!


You can find information about my rating criteria here.


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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

31 thoughts on “Vicious (Villains #1) by V.E. Schwab

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while but I’ve kept putting it off because of my huge list of other books and my worries that it will be like the Shades of Magic trilogy, which wasn’t my favourite. Your review has convinced me to move it higher up on my list. Hopefully, I’ll be writing a review of it soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was in the EXACT SAME BOAT! I didn’t really enjoy the second book in Shades of Magic (I haven’t even read book 3 because I was so mad at the book, UGH). I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!


  2. I have so many heart eyes for this book. If my characters aren’t just a little bit evil then i’m not sure i’m feeling them. (Lazlo excluded obviously)
    So glad you enjoyed this one too. I’m ready for Vengeful now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love my characters like I love my coffee…. dark with a hint of anti-matter. Erm, maybe not the anti-matter but you get the drift (and hopefully The Good Place ref). I am like a third into Vengeful but haven’t felt compelled to pick it up in a week. SOBBING

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Kaleena!
    Wonderful review! You’ve captured my sentiments about this novel as well. I love how Victor is a deeply flawed character yet I still wanted to cheer him on. As you know, though I think Eli is ingenious and brilliant in his own way, I do find him a bit more hard to relate to haha. You bring up a good point about the world building which I agree with 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Good or bad- it’s all up for interpretation I’d say 🙂
        I know what you mean in that I was rooting for Victor for the most part in the novel! Did you get a chance to read Vengeful yet?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed Vicious!! It really is incredible, and definitely a different flavor from the Shades of Magic series. It feels almost like comic book installments in a way, which is perfect for the series.

    And I know most folks rave about Eli and Victor, but MITCH. AND SYDNEY. AND DOL. I love that weird little family that pretends they haven’t gone all soft and domestic. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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