Last week I wrote about how my summer-reading theme seemed to be “disappointing science fiction,” and I claimed that I was giving up on the genre. Unfortunately, I still seem to be stuck in my theme.
Someone recommended that I read Vicious, so I gave it a try. Vicious isn’t technically science fiction, but it’s probably close enough that I should have been wary. It definitely was disappointing.
This book is a superhero novel (which henceforth shall be a genre dead to me along with science fiction). Two college roommates discover how to give people superpowers, so naturally they begin with themselves. Unfortunately neither of them turns out to be a hero. One of the roommates goes to jail for ten years plotting revenge on his old friend. The other spends those ten years trying to kill as many superpowered people as he can in order to protect the world.
Some people have called the book a cross between the Count of Monte Cristo and the X-men. I’m like, “Uh. No.”
The book is morally ambiguous, and it even trots out the very very tired trope that the truly crazy person is the one who believes that he’s doing things in the name of God. The book is not thought provoking, but I suppose it could be mildly diverting if you really really really love to read novels about people with superpowers. I, however, do not really really really love books like this.
The plot is straightforward and predictable, but the author tries to disguise this fact by presenting the narrative in a series of flashbacks. The chapters never succeed each other chronologically. They always jump back and forth in time, and the book has 72 chapters. Yes, that’s right, 72! The book is only about 350 pages long. This means that the narrative flashes backward or forward every few pages.
Some readers might find this to be a clever presentation that builds suspense. I find it to be a cheap trick. I wouldn’t be surprised if she wrote the book straight and her editor made her chop it up and reorder it in an attempt to make it seem less boring.
Speaking of editors, the author’s prose style cries out for a superpowered editor to rescue it. Here is a sample:
“He opened a music program and clicked play, flooding the small tiled room with the heavy base of a rock song.” [All about that “base.”]
“He could see, as he wound his way behind the eyes of the crowd of morbid spectators and the gathering photographers, to the back of the bank, and the crime was no longer in progress.” [I don’t even know what this sentence means. I got stuck wandering behind someone’s eyes. Gross.]
“In his hands, good things broke, and bad things grew.” [His hands had finally mastered the art of mixed metaphor.]
Vicious is really a YA book masquerading as a book for adults (and not even a good YA book). The writing style is juvenile. The characters don’t possess the depth that one expects in adult literature. The plot is fairly straightforward. Even the book’s layout (fonts, paper quality, cover art) smacks of YA. I suspect that the publishers understood that V. E. Schwab’s “first adult book” was still on the juvenile side, so they intentionally packaged it in such a way as to appeal to teens. Teens get to read something “adult,” i.e. a little bit of language and a little bit of sex, and the publishers get to make money. Everybody wins.
Well, everyone except me. I just get to add another title to my list of disappointing summer reads. In my defense, I only read about half the book before skimming the rest and tossing it aside.