Literary Commentary

“Vicious” and Morality

Vicious! I read this book, by V.E. Schwab, a long time ago, and really enjoyed it! Although I had a lot of initial comments and discussion questions building up in my mind while I was reading, I unfortunately never wrote them down once I’d read it. Then, a few weeks later I finally did on my other blog, but only roughly. I by no means did justice to the questions raised in the book, just shared some of the conclusions I remember coming to after reading.

However, on a writerly note, I’m really excited to have separated my original blog, Cre84me into one for art/lifestyle and one for writing, because I feel that I will be more free to write here without the worry of unnecessarily notifying people who have no interest in this kind of blogging. So here’s to way more discussion questions in the future! This post is a repost of one I previously published and want to republish on my new blog, so if you haven’t read it yet, hope you enjoy!

Synopsis

A masterful tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, and superpowers. Victor and Eli started out as college roommates: brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

What I Thought

What a curious book. I really enjoyed it while reading, because I was eager to follow the characters’ interesting adventures and the idea was fantastically intriguing. Unfortunately, I soon realized the characters themselves were much less intriguing. Very little development occurs with the characters throughout the book. It was definitely a plot-centered book – though it was still great, don’t get me wrong. I also enjoyed V.E. Schwab’s writing style – she leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination and inference; Vicious is one of those books that makes you feel like you’re involved because you’re coming to conclusions too, not just reading about them.

I did kind of feel like it was ripping off X-Men the whole time though. The two main characters are remarkably similar to Charles Xavier and Magneto… Also had recently finished watching “The OA” on Netflix, which is also about near-death experiences granting people supernatural abilities, so although the idea was interesting, it did sort of feel like a melange of things I’d already read about. I’m actually a huge X-Men fan and love the idea about near-death experiences though, so this really wasn’t a big drawback for me.

My BIGGEST annoyance with the book was the way it was structured. Oh. My. God. It was a “few-scenes-from-today” then “woah-flashback-to-10-years-ago” kind of thing. At first it was nice and fun because I was getting some really neat background information about mysterious characters I was eager to learn about. But it kept happening and happening and after a while it got to the point where something really interesting and action-based was happening in the here and now and then WHAM, you’re hit with a flashback to ten years ago when someone is walking leisurely thinking about rainbows and unicorns (exaggeration, I know, but you get the point).

Overall, from an entertainment standpoint I really liked the plot of this book and the idea truly won me over (despite what I previously mentioned). Because of the overly-done flashbacks and lack of character development, it’s not quite a favourite book though. I’ve given it a 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

Totally recommend this if you’re interested in something that’s still rather novel with some really unexpected twists.

Some Philosophical Questions

This was my FAVOURITE part of the book. It was packed with some pretty heavy moral questions, as its main underlying theme was the fight between evil and less-evil. We’ve got Victor on the one hand, who’s clearly an introvert with no “good intentions” to look out for others or help others, but incredibly smart and ambitious. Then there’s Eli, the popular but smart and (also) ambitious one. At first, they’re both united by a shared intelligence and passion in college. But what happens when their situation changes, and they both obtain supernatural powers really shows their true colours in ways that makes you question who is truly, morally right.

I mean, from the start, it’s unclear who is meant to be the “morally virtuous” one. Both Victor and Eli seem to have very “good” intentions behind their motivations. Eli truly believes his actions (he’s kind of like a Magneto) are saving people, as does Victor (who is more of a Charles-Xavier-but-evil). I think the question can only be answered by investigating the way they go about it. From what I could tell, the book’s message is that the end does not justify the means.

Although neither character is good (they both kill, lack empathy, and use their powers to their advantage to meet their personal agendas), what seems to distinguish Victor is his logically-fabricated set of values that he maintains despite his loss of a conscience (due to his near-death experience), while Eli takes his loss of a conscience to mean that he’s not meant to have one (he’s very religious) and thus can do what he wants as long as his conscience doesn’t tell him otherwise.

So it’s also obvious that one of the big questions is: how do we determine our moral values – is it through logical analysis (rational thinking) or through what “feels” right and doesn’t provoke a negative response from our conscience?

Great book overall, only wish I’d stopped to write about it sooner when it was fresher in my memory… And that the flashbacks would not interrupt exciting moments.

Life—the way it really is—is a battle not between Bad and Good, but between Bad and Worse.
– V.E. Schwab (Vicious)

 

Let me know in the comments what you think about these philosophical questions, or if there’s a particular book you’ve read that raises a lot of moral and ethical questions too!

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