Vicious – V.E. Schwab

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“Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.” – V. E. Schwab, Vicious

Say hello to Vicious by V. E. Schwab, the very best and most thrilling book that I have read in a long time. Vicious is a glorious science-fiction/action/thriller novel with absolutely no dull moments, and a new surprise in every chapter. Dive in with me as I dissect this gripping story.

Vicious begins by painting a picture of Victor Vale, an angsty, morbidly curious med student and his best friend and roommate, Eli Cardale. Victor’s life seems quite routine and well-balanced when we first meet him. He consistently attends classes at his prestigious university, pouts over not having Eli’s girlfriend as his own, and engages in the strange habit of defacing his parents’ acclaimed self-help books to create pessimistic blackout poetry. An extremely unique selection of activities, but routine nonetheless. Victor slowly gains suspicion that Eli is not the good-mannered student that he appears to be. He wants to crack Eli to see what is underneath the shiny surface, and this becomes easier when Eli decides to write his thesis on “EO’s” (stands for ExtraOrdinaries, which means superheroes, essentially). It’s not only Eli that undergoes a surprising change of character, Victor suddenly abandons his routine life, his cynicism and skepticism. He believes in Eli’s theory about EO’s; that under the right circumstances, anyone could transform from an ordinary human being into a fantastic, reborn EO with powers all their own. And what’s more, that the very ordinary human beings Eli Cardale and Victor Vale could transform themselves.

The two model students take a dangerous nosedive into the unknown. They suddenly find themselves detached from society, cooly lurking under the surface of evil. They grow apart and each pursue different paths. Victor meets Mitch, a tattooed hulk of a man with the sharpest mind around, and Sydney, a teenager who is forced to grow up too fast. Just when things seem to be improving slightly, Victor’s got his new crew, Eli is long gone and can’t bother him… Victor runs into him again. This reunion sends the plot into a whirlwind of violence, excitement and fear. The once innocent Eli Cardale and Victor Vale are found questioning the validity of their own lives, and they take a fascinating journey together which has even the reader of their terrific tale wondering what it is exactly that makes people good at heart.

I cannot rave about this book enough, because WOW. Its protagonist is so problematic and conflicted that you bounce back and forth between loving and hating him. The mood of the whole story is very straightforward, it’s cunning and evil and angst-filled and I love it. Imagine a soulless, sneaky, violent protagonist trying to save the world. That’s what Vicious has to offer. V. E. Schwab takes all the stereotypes of superheroes and super-villains and science-fiction and throws them out the window in this novel. It’s unlike anything I’ve read before, and I meant it when I said it doesn’t get boring. I’ve never liked science-fiction all that much, admittedly, except maybe The Maze Runner and The 5th Wave, so I nearly skipped Vicious. Thank the book Gods I didn’t. Vicious is a masterpiece, it’s so completely wonderful. I couldn’t recommend it more if I tried.

Now. If you read my last post, you might remember that I said it’s incredibly hard for a book to become one of my favourites. Ok, yes, I’m a dirty liar. I’m about as reliable as Victor Vale is. But I got lucky, I suppose, with this treasure. Every single character (and I mean every one) gets extraordinarily described, and they all get their own thorough development. It’s stellar, V. E. Schwab’s attention and effort really shines through.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope with all my heart that this novel gets the recognition it deserves. And as a final thought, this story would make THE BEST movie, if it stayed true to the author’s vision… Somebody get on that, ok? Thanks.

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The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland

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“The most astonishing aggregation of human curiosities gathered together in one place! Are these creatures animal or human? Historical or mythical? Mineral, vegetable or fantastical? Discover for yourself here, tonight, for a limited engagement only!” – Rosie Garland, The Palace of Curiosities

I’ve yet to come across a book about circuses and spectacular anomalies that I’ve resisted, and this 2013 historical supernatural fiction novel is no exception. It’s absolutely chock-full of poetic goodness, which doesn’t surprise me since the author, Rosie Garland, has previously been recognized for her poetry. She absolutely takes hold of the story and draws it out for just long enough. And, I mean, come on, the cover is absolutely lovely, if you say you don’t judge books by their covers you’re definitely lying.

The Palace of Curiosities begins by telling the two very separate stories of Eve, an insecure young girl covered in long golden fur-like tresses who is guided by her imaginary friend Donkey-Skin, and of Abel, a man who has lost all of his memory and searches incessantly within his labyrinthian mind in order to find the answers to his troubles. They both have their defining quirks which leads them to be brought together in a sideshow-like attraction, where they, amongst many other curious folks, flaunt their differences. They are both distracted from their true goals by the shiny bright lights and the continuous praise from nightly audiences. Eve comes to a point where she desires this no more, and she realizes that the answer to her prayers is within Abel, and the answer to Abel’s within her. It’s a story of self-discovery and acceptance in the oddest of forms. Our two protagonists have to cut away at the ties that have been holding them down for so long in order to find out who they really are and what they truly stand for, uninfluenced by the trances and fantasies they’ve been living in.

This story was enjoyable, but I found the first half boring, the characters lacked substance and I sometimes found myself wanting to know more about some of the secondary characters rather than the main ones. Eventually, it began to pick up near the middle and I was captivated by it for awhile, until… yep. It became predictable and I knew what was bound to happen. I have to say, though, that the writing style was impressive, but only if you’re into fluffy, adorned writing that has a poetic edge to it. To me, the style helped evoke the time period of Victorian London, and was frequently interrupted with slang and casual dialect which gave the novel a nice balance. In the end, the main characters did face some development, one of my favourite passages was a monologue of Eve’s, where she digs deep and paints an image of who she wants to be:

“I would make plans and dream of the day when I would throw away my curling pins and all feminine fripperies. I would let my beard roughen and wear it like a sailor, tugged into two greasy points, tangled with breadcrumbs and beer. I would swear out loud and not just in the tent of my head; I would have a girl in every port, and remember not one of their names. And when I was tired of mannishness I would be so voluptuous my swains would faint away at the sight of me.”

In a nutshell, this book was a nice little escape from a busy week, but it’s certainly not up there in my favourites. Don’t get me wrong, here, it is pretty difficult for a book to earn a spot on that favourites list, and I am glad I read it just to experience the style, I was just a bit bored sometimes. I think it was the flowery writing style that did it, sometimes it acted as a blindfold so I couldn’t see that the story’s spine was weak. If you like weird, circus-y books as much as I do, this may be worth the read. I found the author herself to be very interesting as well, she sings in a Goth band and is a cabaret singer, in addition to being a poet/writer. Finally, I must warn you that the book was a bit raunchy at times as well as explicit. It certainly doesn’t take away from the content, in fact it adds to it, but I just wanted to advise you all of that.

Thank you so very much for taking time to read this review, and I hope that you’ve learned something that you wanted to know. Happy reading!