Friday, June 10, 2016

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

I first read V. E. Schwab's work after my friend, comics artist Betty Liang, recommended the first book in her fantasy trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic. She described it as reading like YA, and it does - the characters are young, on the cusp of adulthood, ranging, I think, between nineteen and twenty-one. The series is fantastic - Schwab is currently writing the final book in the trilogy, A Conjuring of Light. I also recently picked up an ARC for her novel This Savage Song, which will be released in a little over a month from now. She's a fantastic - and prolific - author. 

Vicious focuses on characters who are transitioning out of young adulthood into adulthood. Victor and Eli are college seniors tasked with creating a final original research project that they will be evaluated on. Both share similar interests, but Eli takes those interests a step farther. While Victor wants to focus his research on adrenaline, Eli is interested in EOs- ExtraOrdinary people - who have enhanced abilities that other people do not. Together, Victor and Eli begin a series of experiments on themselves based on the question: what if adrenaline - our fight or flight impulse - can trigger ordinary people to gain extraordinary powers? What if a near-death experience can create new abilities? (A query that is somewhat central to Ryan Reynold's new Deadpool movie.) Victor and Eli put themselves through near-death experiences in order to trigger the abilities they didn't know they had. In Victor's case, the ability to control pain levels. In Eli's, a brand of immortality.

The novel flashes backwards and forwards between Eli and Victor's time in college to ten years later, when Victor escapes from prison and goes in search of Eli to exact revenge. He's joined by a young EO girl named Sydney, and his cellmate Mitch, who has abilities of his own. 

Throughout the novel, Victor's penchant for defacing books makes for an interesting character trait. He uses a black Sharpie to wipe out words on borrowed library books in order to create his own borrowed poetry, perhaps reflecting the purpose of books such Tom Phillip's A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel, which creates a new text by drawing over the original text of the Victorian novel, and partially deleting words (the title A Humument comes from a partial deletion of the title of the origin work, A Human Document by W. H. Mallock). 

It's a compelling novel, very Neil Gaiman-esque at times, especially in the opening scenes. I like the way that Schwab works with characters straddling their teens and twenties, a kind of new adult category. I'm looking forward to reading The Savage Song next, which she writes as Victoria Schwab, rather than V. E. Schwab. 

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