In comic books, and movies based on comic books, it is generally easy to identify the hero and the villain. In these types of media, and many others for that matter, the lines between right and wrong, dark and light, good and evil are obvious and evident. In life, however, the lines between these extremes are rarely clear. That lack of clarity is explored compellingly in V.E. Schwab’s Vicious.

Eli and Victor are college roommates, friends and colleagues in Lockland University’s medical program. While they are polar opposites in their looks, demeanors, and approaches, they share being brilliant, inventive and inquisitive. When the time comes to declare the subject for their senior theses, Victor chooses a traditional topic, one with clear avenues open to exploration. Eli, on the other hand, chooses a topic that is quasi-scientific, which he must defend to his advisor, and even then it is only conditionally accepted. Both men pursue their research and, as the term progresses, Victor becomes increasingly interested in Eli’s theories, and eventually encourages him to attempt an experiment, which turns out to be the first of a series. These experiments will fail and succeed. Lives will be lost and altered. Brilliant futures will be derailed. And, in the end, these former friends will become not simply enemies, but arch-enemies. Victor and Eli are now nemeses moving toward a confrontation that can only end with one of them slain by the other’s hand.

In Vicious, author V.E. Schwab takes familiar comic book tropes and explores the gray areas that exist between the extremes of hero and villain. The characters are compelling and noticeable, if not always likeable, and the plot is both familiar and yet intriguing. The world Schwab has created is recognizable. Like some other recent comic book infused fiction and films, it reflects our reality well, with the added bonus of portraying super-powered individuals. There is a cinematic quality to the writing that would transfer well to the big screen.  The action is both believable and awe-inspiring and moves at an escalating pace to a very satisfactory conclusion.

Vicious will appeal to anyone who loves comic book style adventure and/or wants to take a look beneath the masks of heroes and villains.