Before we get into the review, I should include the synopsis and a picture of the (stunning) cover here; I forgot to included synopses on my most recent reviews (oops), so I’ll fix that before I post this.
“The sequel to VICIOUS, V.E. Schwab’s first adult novel.
Sydney once had Serena—beloved sister, betrayed enemy, powerful ally. But now she is alone, except for her thrice-dead dog, Dol, and then there’s Victor, who thinks Sydney doesn’t know about his most recent act of vengeance.
Victor himself is under the radar these days—being buried and re-animated can strike concern even if one has superhuman powers. But despite his own worries, his anger remains. And Eli Ever still has yet to pay for the evil he has done.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Doesn’t it remind you of an old-school movie poster for a spy drama, or a noir-type thriller? Doesn’t it evoke images of grey cities and blood-soaked streets, of smoky back rooms being lit up by muzzle flashes as an Ordinary Joe is Pushed Too Far1?
Ahem. So! On to Vengeful, and my thoughts. Is it a surprise to anyone that I loved it? I don’t think so. For those lucky readers who have not yet read anything by VE Schwab, if you like fantasy, science fiction (which I was surprised to find this series qualified as, at least according to Goodreads), comic books or badass, morally ambiguous characters—I would thoroughly recommend you pick up one of her novels. Or read my review on Vicious (Vengeful’s prequel), to see if it seems like something you would enjoy.
The book opens not with Victor, Eli, or any other character you might expect if you’ve been eagerly awaiting Vicious’s sequel2—but with a new character, Marcella Riggins (née Morgan, of course). Marcella is a beautiful, determined, ruthless mob wife, and an EO3. Marcella’s power is impressive, and she sets out to take vengeance on those who wronged her, and bring the city of Merit to its knees. Along the way she encounters a shapeshifter who goes by June; and a grieving widower who cannot die, no matter how hard he tries.
That’s not to say the book doesn’t include the old gang. Victor, Sydney, Mitch, Dominic and Dol all re-appear, as do Eli and Stell. Victor may be back from the dead, but (as foreshadowed in Vicious) his powers aren’t quite the same. He’s also had five years to refine his skills, as has Sydney, who has grown up a lot since Vicious, and I couldn’t be happier.
A lot is revealed about Eli’s backstory in Vengeful (which was left rather vague in Vicious); it explains a lot, and excuses nothing. Stell returns with a vengeance (sorry, I’ll try to limit the puns), leading a new law enforcement sector invented to contain and study EOs. It’s never stated whether he remembers what he did under Serena’s influence, but I have to assume he does. With that in mind, it’s not hard to understand his motivations; the Villains series is filled with nuanced, interesting characters, and still never skimps on character development or motivation.
A new villain (and antagonist for EOs in general, and Eli in particular) is introduced in Dr Haverty, a thoroughly hair-raising creep, even without superpowers (a challenge in a book so filled with extraordinary characters4). His arc in the book is satisfying, and well foreshadowed.
Dominic’s role was also well foreshadowed, but that doesn’t mean I am any less upset for him. Victor’s gang in general deserves better! While I’m on the topic—Mitch is a large, heavily tattooed angel, his interactions with Sydney (and the loyalty she has towards him as a result) is really touching.
Victor’s arc in this novel is riveting—it’s believable without being expected, and I am continuously impressed by VE Schwab’s refusal to let her characters off easy. Victor’s last actions in the book made me very upset, and any book series that can evoke that much frustration while still making me admire the plot development is one I have to recommend.
Sydney’s choice to stay with Victor and Mitch (even after her revelation with the bird) was amazing, and proof that a great author never needs to milk a moment, or drag out a confrontation that you know to expect. It’s the difference (in my opinion) between poignancy and melodrama. I felt for Sydney, I agreed with Victor, and I thoroughly sympathised with Mitch. Their little family is adorable, and Victor’s refusal to acknowledge their importance in his life remains heartbreaking. Sydney has grown up so much since she first appears in Vicious, and if her character arc in Vengeful is any indication, I won’t be disappointed by the direction she goes in any further books.
June and Sydney’s friendship was one of my favourite things about Vengeful; though Marcella’s refusal to back down or restrict herself to the role society had allocated her ran a close second. If you like strong female characters, Vengeful is the book for you. Where Vicious focussed on Victor and Eli’s relationship (as friends and enemies), Vengeful opens the world to explore the moral, scientific, legal and societal consequences of EOs5, while still providing the character driven, action packed, emotionally impactful plot that Vicious delivered.
June is an amazing character, and her backstory (while only hinted at) is plenty tragic enough to compete with Victor, Eli and Sydney. June and Marcella as a crime duo gave me major Magneto and Mystique feels (much like Victor and Eli had Magneto/Charles vibes); and June’s actions at the end of the book hint at further novels (possibly focussed more on Sydney?), which I am ridiculously excited about. EON, the characters introduced as working there, and the events that transpire there towards the end of the book also reveal a variety of promising threads to future novels in the Villains world. The comic book touches present in Vicious carried over to Vengeful6 as well, references and tropes were included well, evoking classic themes and archetypes, but never becoming stale or predictable.
I don’t think this is a major plot point, but I’ll err on the safe side by not naming names, but when a major character in Vengeful was revealed to be asexual, I was so freakin’ happy. It fits so well! Asexual representation (especially explicit representation) is so rare in fiction7, and ireally glad that VE Schwab has continued her trend of LGBTAIQ+ representation in her books. The small touch on page 472, of including ‘they’ in the list of potential pronouns for a person, was also wonderful.
The closest thing I have to a complaint is Johnathon’s somewhat lacking motivation/character development, but I still felt like his actions were explained by his past. Vengeful was already a rather long novel, at 478 pages, and if the choice was to more fully flesh out Jonathon, or focus on the other characters in the book, the right decision was made. His character arc seemed like a good fit, both for him and the novel.
My favourite line in this book had some stiff competition—Vengeful is jam-packed with insightful observations of human nature and witty banter alike. That said, after reading the line below, I couldn’t possibly choose any other quote.
“I don’t want to survive…I want to thrive. And I promise you, I’m just getting started.” -Marcella
This review is already far longer than I intended it to be, so I’ll wrap up. If you enjoy comic books or superhero movies, classic tales of good and evil, science fiction that skilfully examines morality; of you enjoyed Vicious or found this review interesting; then read Vengeful. It’s extraordinary.
1The unnecessary capitalisation is for effect, I know how grammar works
2As I assume anyone who read the book has been
3Short for ExtraOrdinary, essentially someone who had a near death experience, and came back with superpowers based on their last thoughts/desires
4Ayyyy! I know I said I’d try to limit the puns, but I honestly couldn’t help myself
5I’ll say that the general public not being aware that EOs exist doesn’t always work in the favour of the characters in this book, and leave it at that
6The visuals engendered by Vengeful would work perfectly as a comic book or movie; Sydney’s wigs being a great example, but the dramatic coats that manage to work their way into pivotal scenes (that would billow with great effect), the colour scheme that Marcella embraces, and the cinematic brilliance that would be Marcella’s party are also great examples that spring to mind
7Seanan McGuire’s character Nancy from the Wayward Children series, and Mikodez from Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series are some of the only other examples of the breed (ie explicitly ace characters) that I am aware of, and trust me—I have looked