Fantasy, LGBT, sci-fi

My Review: Vicious (Villains #1): by V.E Schwab

Publish Date: September 24th, 2013
Number of Pages: 371 Pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy (Urban Fantasy)

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

There are no good men in this game.

– V.E. Schwab, “Vicious”

I wish to someday sit down with Victoria (V.E.) Schwab and just talk to her and find out where the hell she gets all her ideas from… How does she think up the stories that pop into her head? Where does she draw her inspiration from? Is she actually in fact human, or is she some enchanted Poet Laureate that is gifted from the gods in creating amazing stories? I want her to publish a book on creative writing or on her process because her books are seriously just so breathtaking, so unique, so creative, and so inspiring!

I will admit I had no idea about this book’s existence until it’s sequel, Vengeful, arrived on bookshelves over the summer of 2018, and the gorgeous cover design immediately drew me in, and the blurb inside sounded like an amazing journey too! I go onto my bible, Goodreads, and saw that it was actually the sequel to another title, the very book this review is about.

Reading this was a refreshing and unique twist on the Superhero/Supervillain genre, and was so completely unpredictable and intensely dark toned that whenever I picked it up, I was dead set on whatever was occurring and easily blocked out everything going on around me. I can also say the two main characters and their dynamic is one of the most unique pairings I’ve read in any sort of story in recent memory.

The overall character work was one of the biggest highlights of this story for me, and not because they are super relatable or likeable…It’s actually quite the opposite. Victor Vale and Eli Evers, the two main characters, are actually pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to decent human beings, but for different reasons. Despite the darkness that they both have, what the author has expertly done with them is make us readers understand them; even though we don’t personally like them or relate to them in any sort of way, she was able to clearly show us the character’s moral integrity, their reasons behind what they do, what drove them, and how they justified even their more heinous acts.

It almost felt like a social commentary in way, similar to that of one of the messages that American Horror Story presents us with: that all monsters are human. We all have a dark side within us, and some are able to keep it dormant and suppress it from getting loose, but of course not everyone is like that. While on the topic of TV/Movie comparisons, I’d say this novel is also similar to M. Night Shyamalan’s Sci-Fi Thriller, Unbreakable, and Josh Trank’s Chronicle. Both films are about people who gain super abilities in some some odd sort of way, and have a darker/grittier vibe on superheroes and the supervillains that rise up and battle it out.

The story’s other themes are ambition, envy, betrayal and power, and two intelligent characters like Victor and Eli were doomed to be torn apart in their own selfish journeys to obtain their goals. They both have darkness in them and succumb to it’s siren call, but are also so good at hiding it from those around them. They both have sociopathic tendencies, and while some people may be turned off to it, I thought it made them more interesting to read about as the story progressed!

With Schwab’s addictive style of writing, an exciting plot, and a totally original set of characters; this book demands to be read!

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Victor Vale and Eli Evers were college roommates and best friends; they were both brilliant, arrogant and both saw a fire within each other and wanted to play with it. They both secretly could see that there was something the other kept beneath the surface, something more sinister than what an ordinary person should have, and they both patiently waited for the other to bring it to the surface.

During their senior year, they work together on their senior thesis project and make a startling, miraculous discovery: some people can awaken special abilities when they suffer a near-death experience. They become obsessed with finding out more about this strange occurrence, but that’s when everything starts to go wrong…

10 Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to exact his revenge on his former friend, who’s now his greatest enemy. With him is his large, intimidating former cell-mate and a young girl with an unnerving ability of her own. Together, they all go out in search of Eli, who’s taken it upon himself to be a new kind of “Superhero” for the public eye, but his heroic stance may be less than genuine as he’s lead everyone to believe…

Vicious is a masterful, twisted tale of ambition, jealousy, betrayal, and superpowers, set in a near-future world.

What I Liked:

  1. Morally Grey Characters! No one is entirely evil, and no one is entirely good either. Victor is such a great example of the anti-hero, and his characterization is done so well. He is Ace (Asexual), and is actually supposed to be the hero of the story, even though his entire arc is out of jealousy and the thirst for revenge. Eli was another truly outstanding character to read; he’s the exact opposite of Victor in almost every way: he’s charming, he’s charismatic, and has a smile that could make anyone trust him. The problem with that is (and I know this comparison is cliché) but look at Ted Bundy… Wasn’t too hard on the eyes, but underneath that handsome exterior was a horrific monster with hardly any remorse. Lucifer himself was considered one of God’s most beautiful angels before becoming Satan.
  2. The Author’s Writing Style! The author certainly has a way with words; the only way I can describe Schwab’s style is simply addicting. There’s not a single excessive word, and it all flowed together so well, Schwab expertly knows how to reel in your attention and make you obsessed in guessing in what will happen next, because her work is so unpredictable; you truly are in the dark until the climax of it all.

Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”

– V.E. Schwab, “Vicious”

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Needed More Creepiness…While it’s excellent in terms of suspense and thrills, I had hoped for more creepiness to come out of this story? Like, I had hoped for more horror aspects of this story. The darkest part of this story is the exploration of both Eli and Victor’s inner darkness and the justification towards some of their more….questionable actions and decisions, but I don’t know…part of me just wanted to be unnerved a little more. I’m not asking for demon possession or floating girls in white nightdresses with terrible split ends coming out of TV’s, but let’s just say it wasn’t necessary to leave the hall light on every night I slept while reading this or afterwards, and for some reason that was an expectation of mine going in.
  2. The Timeline is Out of Order…The main story switches back from present day and 10 years in the past. We start the story with Victor as he had just broken out of prison and gains his new companions around him. We have no idea why him and Eli had such a big falling out or what exactly happened, all we know is there’s undeniable tension there. As you read on, it goes back to when they were back in college, and you slowly learn how it all came to play out and the horrible events that lead up to their eventual confrontation. To some, people can appreciate that parts of the story are revealed to us in such an interesting way, like Victor or someone will say something that obviously refers to something in the past, then the next scene goes back to that event to show you what they meant. For others, and even me to a point, it can slow down the pacing of this story and make it feel jarring and inconsistent.


Very distinguished, very distinctive and very disturbed characters…V. E. Schwab wrote a great novel with one of the more original storylines that I’ve read over the years. Her writing style is very smooth and exciting to read; her prose keeps you intrigued to find out what happens next in the story. I recommend it to anyone who were fans of either fans of the movies I listed earlier, or even the sequels to Unbreakable: Split and Glass. Hell, maybe even fans of X-Men would really get a kick out this title!

This book was especially interesting because not everything was in black and white; no character was completely good or completely evil. It was all about perspective and how light does not always equate to light such as darkness does not always equate to darkness. The two main characters were incredibly interesting to read and get to know; it was chilling to realize that I liked them despite the darkness they both perpetuate. It raised some societal commentary in which we all have a dark side and how we manage it, and answers a ‘what if’ about it manipulating us to do its bidding, which is interesting with one particular character doing “God’s” work in his name as their motivation.

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell


My Review: Red Rising: by Pierce Brown

Publish Date: January 28th 2014
Number of Pages: 382 Pages
Publisher: Del Ray (Random House)
Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

This book is like the love child of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones…but in space. Oh my god, I know…just let that beautiful image sink into your mind as you come up with dozens of crazy, brutal, and absolutely insane possibilities! Odds are, a good chunk of those ideas are actually in this story. Add a touch of the Ancient Greek epic, The Iliad by Homer, and you’ve got the overall vibe of Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

What It’s About:

Hundreds of years into the future, mankind has finally begun to colonize on other planets, and the ruling class of citizens has installed a caste system that is distinguished by colors into our society. The godlike, arrogant and mighty Golds are the overall rulers, and the system ends all the way at the very bottom with the Reds.

Darrow, a 16-year-old Red, is part of a special group of miners called “Helldivers,” who dig deep beneath the surface of Mars in order to procure Helium-3 to terraform the planet and make it habitable for humans. You meet Darrow during one of his excursions and learn that despite him being a Red, he’s overconfident and regards himself to a higher degree than those around him. The story takes a tragic turn when him and his wife, Eo, are arrested for trespassing in a forbidden forest-like area. After getting whipped publicly, Eo sings a haunting, but forbidden song about their unfair slavery, and is hanged for her actions, per order of Mars’s arch-governor, Nero Au Augustus. Devastated over his sudden loss, Darrow makes the terrible mistake of cutting her body down from the noose and burying her body, which in turn gets him hanged as well.

Darrow awakens to discover that he was drugged and secretly brought to a terrorist covert group of Reds called the “Sons of Ares,” who’s goal is to end the oppression of the lower class citizens (aka “lowcolors”). They reveal to Darrow that the Golds had fooled them all: that society had already fully terraformed centuries before, and they continued the ruse in order to use the Reds for their cheap labor and stay under their subjugation. Furious for the unfairness of it all, Darrow joins their cause, using Eo’s haunting song as part of their smear campaign. After many painful surgeries/treatments/cosmetics, Darrow is transformed from a lowly read to an impressive Gold, and everything is set in order to infiltrate the Gold society and destroy it from within.

Through many lessons of Gold etiquette, social behaviors and receiving fake documentation, Darrow then enrolls into the Gold’s Institute, and befriends the charismatic Cassius Au Bellona, and calls out the bitchy Antonia Au Severus on her elitism. Darrow has them all fooled, and is selected to be one of a select few to represent House Mars by the gruff proctor, Fitchner. This leads to him and the others being split into several teams that have a fortress and a scepter, also known as a standard, to defend (like some space-like advanced game of Capture the Flag) in a designated area within the Institute. Darrow meets some other characters, most notably a beautiful young woman named Mustang, a raging lunatic in Titus Au Ladros, and perhaps his biggest threat: the vicious, clever and unseen figure who goes by “The Jackal.”

The winning captain who enslaves all the other teams is deemed the winner, and receives a patron to sponsor them with power, wealth, and influence. Through this contest, battle lines are drawn, alliances are formed and lost, bitter betrayals cost others their lives, twists that surprise you at every corner, and absolutely no one is safe from the brutality of those that are willing to step on whoever they need to in order to gain power in this epic tale.

What I Liked:

  1. The Drama! The author does an amazing job of creating tension, adding in dozens of action packed scenes, badass & diverse characters both male and female, the plot twists and reveals, and a real sense of danger between the pages. There are some brutal deaths that are handed out, and even “The Jackal” can remind GoT fans of a combination of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton, two of the biggest villains the HBO show has ever seen. There’s even a small amount of romance, much to my delight! It’s not a major part of the plot, but feels natural and well developed between two strong characters who recognize the call to battle that’s more important towards their survival, but allow small moments of passion and tenderness.
  2. The Diversity of Characters! Because of the rich world building (more on that down the list), the author created a great opportunity to create a diverse cast of characters, and even does so without getting too into the terminology or risk racial issues of groups of people being misrepresented. People within the color ranks are different races of ethnicity, and it’s the same thing with sexual orientation, and the author doesn’t just straight up say if a character is black, or gay, etc. It’s implied, but never outright said, which gave me the impression that the author didn’t want these things to matter so much in the story. They do matter, but the issue of race or sexual orientation is never questioned in the world.
  3. The Infusion of Greek/Roman Mythology! With some research involved, there’s actually quite a lot of comparisons to the ancient tales. The names of the characters like Nero and Cassius, to the houses within the story, and the planets that represented Roman gods and goddesses, PLUS symbolism used in the story. Upon checking out a subreddit, people pointed out many similarities that I missed: Eo being Persephone, Ares (Greek God of War) with the terrorist group, even the pyramid caste system is similar to Plato’s ideal society! I suggest looking into it, it makes the story so much more satisfying to tho
  4. The Setting! The author has made a truly interesting world in this series; the most notable being the caste system that keeps society in “order.” The setting is also such an integral part of the story, and I am glad to see that it doesn’t just fall in the background; its needed as more and more is revealed in terms of the society, technology and the many characters that appear. The color caste system was a nice touch and felt original, which is impressive considering all the dystopian series like Divergent and The Hunger Games that made the idea so popular. Many other stories failed to make their system something credible, but Red Rising successfully accomplished it. Below is the Caste pyramid that shows the colors and their rank, along with their societal roles:
The Caste system of the colors, image courtesy of
  • Golds: rulers, royalty of the society
  • Silvers: financiers and Businessmen
  • Whites: clergy’s and Judges
  • Coppers: administrators, lawyers, and bureaucrats
  • Blues: bridge Crew & pilots
  • Yellows: doctors and researchers
  • Greens: programmers and technicians
  • Violets: artisans and creatives
  • Oranges: mechanics and engineers
  • Grays: regular soldiers and police force
  • Browns: servants, cooks and janitors
  • Obsidians: Elite soldiers and bodyguards
  • Pinks: sex slaves, prostitutes and social functionaries
  • Reds: manual laborers and miners

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Too Wordy in Some Areas…The book is marketed as a dystopian/sci-fi thriller (some would even argue that it could be YA since Darrow is only 16 in this story), but it does get incredibly wordy throughout, much like a fantasy genre novel. the author uses a high level of technical terminology, loads and loads of characters with little descriptions and a considerably slow first half of the story that could cause readers to lose interest before the real games begin. It’s supposed to read like an ancient greek tragedy written by Homer himself, with the words that the author uses in his prose and the character dialogue, but it can seem overdramatic and cheesy at times.
  2. Darrow is Perfect…In fact, he’s too perfect. Sure, he’s made into a space-age Adonis as a Gold, but he gets a little too close to the “Mary Sue” character trope (or maybe “Marty Stu” in this case?). He accomplishes tasks with seemingly little issues along the way from his end; any problems he runs into is because of outside forces. Maybe his only mistakes is underestimating other characters: taking them for granted, and being upset with himself when it comes back to bite him in the ass, and learns that there’s more to others than his own assumptions. He views himself as somewhat superior to everyone around him, even when he was Red, and it’s ironic how he’d mention how annoying the arrogant Golds were. All of this, along with the idea that he’s supposed to be an average guy who is from the lowest social caste in the world and the fact that he’s only 16, is a bit hard to believe. It’s MarySue meets the Chosen One for cliché character tropes.
  3. The First Half is incredibly Boring…I’m not going to lie, it drags on for quite a bit. After the initial set up, the story flows at a much slower pace, with a ton of info dumped onto you as well. Darrow’s transformation is a little cringeworthy: bones are snapped and rebuilt to be longer, skin is peeled off, there’s lots of pain, screaming, and blood; and while it’s kind of awesome, but I personally wished that the author condensed more parts around this part of the story. Once Darrow and the other Gold’s get into the competition is when it gets much more interesting, but man-oh-man….it was a journey to get there.


I’d say that fans of the Hunger Games will enjoy these books because they both deal with similar themes of warfare, oppressive governments, and politics in fun, creative ways. Pierce Brown has created a rich world, probably even more complex than Panem, and the promise of so much more to come as the series develops. It’s still far from perfect; there’s still plenty of work that the author needs to improve on: like developing Darrow into a much more fleshed out, relatable character that more people can support and get behind. To end this review, I can say that the book is definitely worth checking out!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell