Eli Cardale and Victor Vale are ExtraOrdinaries (or EOs): people who have survived a near-death experience, and as a result of the trauma developed a special power or ability. Eli’s ability is regenerative: nearly any wound inflicted on him heals almost instantly; and he does not age and may very well be immortal. Victor can control pain, both his own and that of others. At the end of the events chronicled in V.E. Schwab’s Vicious, Eli had been arrested for Victor’s murder, and Victor had just been resurrected. What happens next is chronicled in Schwab’s latest novel, Vengeful.
When Victor allowed Eli to kill him, he had an “ace up his sleeve” that was unknown to Eli: Sydney Clarke. Sydney can resurrect the dead, but she has difficulties resurrecting EOs. They come back, but not exactly as they were before they died. There is always a problem with their ability. So, while Victor knew Sydney could bring him back to life, he had no way of predicting in exactly what state he would return. And now, five years later, Victor is on a search to find someone, anyone who can make him whole again.
Eli’s arrest by Detective Stell, the Merit police officer tasked with investigating potential EO activity, led to the creation of a covert organization called ExtraOrdinary Observation and Neutralization. EON’s mission is to identify, locate, and secure EOs for observation and study. EON also ensures that EOs are unable to use their powers freely in the larger world. For the last five years, Eli has been observed, studied and subjected to repeated and increasingly invasive experiments. But now Stell needs Eli’s help. There is a new EO in town who is wreaking havoc on Merit, and unlike Victor and Eli, she isn’t being quiet about it. In fact, if she gets her way, she plans to take over the city. After that, who knows how far her ambition and power will take her
In Vicious, V.E. Schwab told a tale of comic-book-like heroes and villains, where it is difficult to determine who is who. The focus was on Eli and Victor and how the two went from best friends to mortal enemies, developing superpowers along the way. Everything revolved around the developing, deepening enmity between Eli and Victor. In Vengeful, Schwab masterfully creates a much larger stage for more involved actions and increasingly higher stakes. Readers are shown a world populated with many more EOs possessing a much larger variety of abilities. At the center, Schwab places Marcella Riggs, a mob-wife who, after surviving an attempted murder by her hit-man husband Marcus, becomes vengeance personified. Marcella’s touch destroys, and she touches whomever and whatever she pleases, seeking revenge for years of being overlooked and underestimated by the crime syndicate because she is a woman. Schwab used Vicious to define who EOs are and how they come to be.
In Vengeful, she explores, to a greater degree, how EOs fit, or fail to fit, into the world, and how they are sought out for distinctly different purposes. Marcella is searching for other EOs so she can create an unstoppable arsenal of EO abilities. Victor has a medical issue resulting from his resurrection that must be addressed. Detective Stell, now Director Stell, has created EON with the expressed purpose of identifying and locating EOs so that he can lock them away, ensuring their powers are never used again. And Eli finds all EO, potentially even himself, to be abominations that must be destroyed. As in Vicious, there are no “good-guys” in Vengeful. All of the characters, even those claiming to be motivated for the greater good, exist firmly in shades of gray, far from the extremes of black and white.
The chapters alternate between filling in the five-year gap between Vicious and Vengeful, and showing where the characters are now, as they slowly move toward each other for the inevitable confrontations. Schwab fleshes out existing characters from the first novel and introduces some marvelous new ones. While the hatred between Victor and Eli has not diminished, it turns out to be simply additional fuel for Marcella’s fire, which is burning white hot. The climactic events when all of these characters finally meet up are spectacular.
Five years have passed between the publication of Vicious and Vengeful. While that is an unusual period of time for most sequels, Vengeful was well worth the wait. Almost everything about this novel is larger and grander, than Vicious. And, yet, nothing has been sacrificed. The story and characters are still compelling, and once begun, it is nearly impossible to set down. Vengeful is a satisfying potential conclusion to the events started in Vicious, but it is also open enough to allow for another chapter in this saga, should Schwab choose to revisit it. Let’s hope that she does!