Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious

Goodreads Synopsis: “Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong…”

My Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Best Paired With: Apothic Dark Wine or English Breakfast Tea

Vicious by V.E. Schwab was originally published in 2013 and rereleased this year with newly designed covers! The first photo is the original, the second photo is the US edition, and the last photo is the UK collector’s edition.  The sequel, Vengeful, is coming out this Fall so I began hearing a lot of buzz about the first book in the Villains duology.  I read A Darker Shade of Magic and really enjoyed it. After concluding Vicious, V.E. Schwab has officially become an auto-buy author for me.

I first heard about V.E. Schwab on social media, specifically from Twitter. I had never read any of her books but decided to follow her. She seemed witty enough as a writer. While at last year’s Book Con I decided on a whim to wait in her signing line after purchasing my very first copy of A Darker Shade of Magic. I didn’t know anything about the author, except what I knew from Twitter (she really really really hates Earl Grey). Shortly after meeting the author, I read the book in which this infamous quote is derived: “I’d rather die on adventure than live standing still”. I saw that quote everywhere and I’m all about adventure stories. Suffice to say, I was pleased by this adult Harry Potter-esque story. Ever since the Harry Potter series ended, my soul has been longing for portal fantasy with a unique magic system. That’s how I have grown to be a fan of V.E. Schwab.

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“There are no good men in this game.”

Vicious has been described as a super villain origin story. It’s essentially Xmen: First Class meets Jessica Jones. This book is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of murder and madness. We have two ex-best friends Victor and Eli, who gave themselves superpowers through a series of experiments. I won’t say more on that because this book was so much better not knowing anything. I had zero expectations and was completely surprised from beginning to end!

“Even though we come back, something stays dead. Lost. We forget something of who we are. It’s scary and wonderful and monstrous.”

Both the character development and plot are impressive. V. E. Schwab does an amazing job at giving her villains-to-be goals and motivations so they didn’t feel like cookie cutter characters. The execution of the plot is nearly flawless. The ending had me SHOOK. The author does not miss a beat. If you need any more of an idea of what this book is like, let’s just say that the characters are all very Slytherin.

“It was then she realized that she wasn’t a ghost, or a god. She was a monster.”

Again, I really enjoyed this book knowing next to nothing about it. But I will say that the story has underlying themes of: What is morality? Who is good? What is the nature of evil? These questions aren’t answered for the reader, but rather explored through each character. Nearly every character is self-serving and most of them have a “god-complex”, which I liked. I was fascinated by the motives and reasoning behind each character’s justification for their choices.

I felt that the author did an excellent job at getting down to the psychology of the characters, which made the villains feel even more real. Victor and Eli almost felt too believable making it unnerving to read about them. Since you’re reading through the character’s perspectives, you almost start to sympathize with their goals even though everything about what they do is wrong. 

“Those who ally themselves with monsters are little better than monsters themselves.”

Something I thought was worth noting is that if you read A Darker Shade of Magic, you may notice some aspects in Vicious that seemed to carry into the former. For instance, there was a mention of a character that has one blue eye and one black eye. In ADSOM, it’s a natural physical trait. In Vicious, the different colored eyes are fake. I’m not sure if that was the author’s intention.

Vicious is about our inner monsters. The characters are dangerous, no one can be trusted, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If you are looking for a light, hopeful read about heroes, this book is not for you. It’s a pretty cold-blooded book, but in an oddly intriguing way.

The sequel, Vengeful, is released on September 25, 2018. GO READ VICIOUS NOW!

Memorable Quotes: 

  • It was a kink in his understanding of Eli, the latter’s reliance on religion.
  • “We could be dead,” said Eli. “That’s a risk everyone takes by living.”
  • He’d sat and watched, made sure Eliot Cradle was nothing but a corpicle.
  • Victor Vale was not a fucking sidekick.
  • Victor was the guilty one. The Victor that he knew was dead, replaced by something cold and vicious. A twisted, violent version of himself.
  • The absence of pain led to an absence of fear, and the absence of fear led to a disregard for consequence.
  • I want to believe that there’s more. That we could be more. Hell, we could be heroes.
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Review: LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

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My Rating: ☆☆☆

Characters/Summary 

  • Eve // A girl whose parents are dead and makes money to help her sick grandpa by fighting at the WarDome gladiator-style against robots. In a freak incident, her powers get revealed and it’s broadcasted everywhere. Eve will be hunted down because apparently there’s some weird bias against “abnorms”. I can’t remember if it’s fully explained why.
  • Lemon Fresh // Lemon is Eve’s best friend. Even though I liked her, she fell a little short for me. She should have been more developed, but I have a feeling she will be in the sequel. “Stronger together, together forever.”
  • Ezekiel // After Eve races home from the WarDome, a flying object crashes and Ezekiel is inside. Eve and Lemon stumble upon him and think he’s dead. When they take him home, a series of events happen that I don’t want to spoil but the story takes off when his character comes on the scene. Soon his and Eve’s journeys become entwined.
  • Cricket // A side-kick robot pretty much there for comic relief. He reminded me of Cinder’s android sidekick in The Lunar Chronicles.

LIFE1K3 was pitched as “Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max meets X-Men with a little bit of Blade Runner cheering from the sidelines”. I did not get any Romeo and Juliet vibes (except for the instal-love part). The only thing X-men about this book is Eve being an “abnorm”, a human with unusual abilities. I have not seen Blade Runner, but I watched the trailer and read a quick synopsis on Wikipedia and it sounds about right. I did read a review that there was very obvious nod to Mad Max. I may have needed some prior knowledge to these films to have fully appreciated the references.

I think a more appropriate pitch for people like me who aren’t knowledgeable on all the obscure references would be: “Anastasia meets Westworld meets Paradise Lost with a little bit Thor: Ragnorak cheering on the sidelines”. So if you decide to read this book and you’re like me and you’re out of the loop on obscure sci-fi, these popular references may help you enjoy the story more!

I’m not sure how to write this review because while this book was GOOD, I also struggled in some areas. Mostly I struggled with the writing style and dialogue. Bare in mind this is my first Jay Kristoff book (even though I already own the entire Illuminae series and bought Nevernight a year ago).

The world-building was my favorite part. I had fun with the post-apocalyptic setting, lifelikes, bounty hunters, weird artificial sea snakes, and more! I LOVED the concept of the lifelikes and their history was interesting. I will say that the backstories of the lifelikes is pretty heartbreaking. I really hope Jay Kristoff expands on them further in the sequel. I think the lifelikes were probably one of the biggest strengths of the book.

With LIFEL1K3 I felt like the dialogue was really cheesy. Dialogue is important to me because it helps me get to know the characters, but instead I felt like the dialogue was wasted on cheap jokes. The story had some refreshing ideas and concepts, but I still struggled because this book is all action. It was difficult for me to care about the characters because none of them really had strong motives, or at least any that made me want to root for them. Some reviews mentioned that they struggled with the slang and terminology, but I didn’t.

There is an underlying theme related to humanity versus machines. This concept has been explored in I, Robot, Westworld, The Terminator, Transformers, and The Matrix. I’m not sure that Jay Kristoff did anything unique with it because the emphasis was on the romance. Even with the romantic element, which already felt off-kilter, I wish Jay Kristoff explored the dynamics of love between human and machine in more depth. By the end when some revelations unfold that could alter the fate of their connection, I just didn’t care. The reveals should have felt more earth shattering, but instead it made everything we endured between Eve and Ezekiel seem pointless in retrospect.

Also, the flashback sequences were slooooooow and melodramatic. By slow, I mean they are broken up throughout the novel with the vaguest of details until the end. Eve has a “Memdrive” in her head (because she underwent some serious surgery after a tragic incident, so she has some metal parts tinkering inside) and her memory is starting to return. It takes the whole novel to finally get the truth and I think the author could have done a better job at building more suspense around it in the meantime.

This was almost a 4 star read but I struggled to invest emotionally. See, the book is objectively well-written but I wanted to get to know the characters. Instead, LIFEL1KE is action sequence after action sequence, so it’s very driven by events and not so much their characters or their choices. I even skipped a huge chunk of Part 3 to get closer to the end and I didn’t even feel like I missed anything. I will say, however, that the beginning and ending were the best parts of this book.

LIFEL1K3 was a VERY COOL idea. I thought the overall concept was intriguing. It reminded of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets starring Cara Delevingne—-extremely visual, entertaining at best, but a tad superficial. Despite my 3-star rating, I was actually quite pleased with this story and how it ended. Let’s just say that Jay Kristoff is a Slytherin and he can’t be trusted 😉

RECAP

Pros: 

  • A+ world-building.
  • Eve’s backstory had me shook.
  • Super cool action sequences and visuals.
  • A female friendship to die for.
  • By far, some of the best plot twists ever.
  • Themes of the nature of consciousness, human empathy and cruelty, and what it means to be human.

Cons: 

  • The dialogue was a bit awkward for me.
  • All action, and no real character development.
  • I didn’t understand/see the references (but that’s on me).
  • Call me soulless, but I hate small robot sidekicks.
  • The romance wasn’t all that special.

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I agree with both these reviews for different reasons and I think reading them will help gauge what to expect:

  • This reviewer gave LIFEL1K3 2 stars and does an excellent job at explaining some of the issues better.
  • This review of LIFEL1K3 is 5 stars and goes into detail as to why.

Let’s Chat! 

Have you read LIFEL1K3? Do you think it’s up your alley? Have you read any other Jay Kristoff book? What do you think of his writing style?

 

Review: Six of Crows

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Read the synopsis here.

Review

Rating: ☆☆☆3/4 = I LIKED IT.

Oceans Eleven meets Game of Thrones in this tale of six misfits who come together to complete the mission of their lifetime.

“A gambler, a convict, a wayward song, a lost Grisha, a Suli girl who had become a killer, a boy from the Barrel who had become something worse.”

Six of Crows is apparently set two years after the events in the Grisha trilogy. This book is almost flawless, but perhaps that’s the problem. I can’t think of anything bad about this book, except that if you didn’t read Shadow and Bone it will be a little difficult to understand the magic system at first (though even reading that one, I still had trouble). Normally, I detest multiple POV but Leigh Bardugo incorporated it fantastically. I felt that the story was original, but I failed to feel captivated as a whole. Regardless, I still thought the writing was impressive and the ending had me shook.

“Trying not to die was the best possible distraction.”

In the beginning there were some stabby scenes, but afterward the story slows pace. This was a VERY good story but so much felt dragged out. I suppose after all the exposition, I wanted to see more happen in the present rather than read the characters reflect on their pasts so frequently. I did enjoy the character development, but I just didn’t like when it slowed down that much.

For some reason it was difficult to truly care about this story and I wanted to DNF so many times. The main event doesn’t even begin to happen until over 60% in with mostly planning and plotting in the meantime. I feel like for a heist plot with a lot of risks involved, the author didn’t take enough risks herself. Even with the all the danger that occurs in this book, I felt like the author was somehow playing it safe.  On top of that, it took me TWO months to finish. I started in mid-April and put it down twice and finally completed the book in June.

“The life you live, the hate you feel—it’s poison. I can drink it no longer.” 

Six of Crows is good because it’s morally grey, there’s no happily ever after crap, and the characters are all dynamic. It also contains a decent balance between slow burn and action and the romance is minimal. So what’s the problem? I just wasn’t blown away. I still LOVE the Grishaverse and I love the author’s writing. I just failed to make an emotional connection with this story in particular. For me to do that, I have to relate or sympathize with the character’s plight in some way.

“When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.” 

One thing I will say is that I love how Bardugo incorporated her own condition, osteonecrosis, onto her character Kaz. He doesn’t have the same exact condition, but she wrote him with a physical ailment. It’s refreshing to read about characters who have a disability in fantasy. It makes so much sense! In time periods in which people didn’t have anywhere near the medical advancements we have now, I feel like more people then we realize were crippled, handicapped, or even missing limbs due to disease.

“I do seem to remember something about certain doom.”

What’s interesting is that there’s a lot of realism incorporated into Six of Crows. While there is a magic system, so much is done with forethought and careful planning that it took a little bit away from the mystique of everything. Perhaps that’s intentional on the author’s part and that’s exactly what makes this book stand out. In Shadow of Bone, we have characters with magical abilities who use the full extent of those powers and the writing style is bewitching. In Six of Crows, it’s about the reality of of the character’s world even though a magic system exists and the writing, while effectively detailed, is more direct and forward. That’s not a bad thing at all—just different from what I normally expect in this sort of fantasy. Despite my reservations, I DO like this book and have complete and utter respect for Leigh Bardugo as a writer.

RECAP

PROS:

  • Minimal romance
  • I have to tip my hat to the genius and planning behind writing this story..
  • So many twists and surprises at the end.
  • Complex, unique and flawed characters.
  • Best written multiple POV I’ve read in awhile.
  • The details of The Ice Court were so intricate and brought the entire world to life.

CONS:

  • While I liked his character, Kaz wasn’t nearly as deadly as everyone talked him up to be like. I would’ve liked to see Kaz as the anti-hero more.
  • I wasn’t emotionally invested. Possibly due to multiple POVs.
  • For a rescue mission plot, it surprisingly dragged.
  • It took me way too long to finish.

Do I recommend it? YES.

Will I read the sequel? YES.

Do I intend to read every Leigh Bardugo book written? YES. YES. YES.

Let’s Chat 

Have you read this book yet? Is it on your TBR? Who is your favorite character? I really enjoyed Wylan and Nina the most! Do you recommend any other books with an ensemble cast?

Review: I Was Born For This

 

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Summary

Goodreads Synopsis: For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

Review

Rating: ☆☆☆☆1/2

I first discovered Alice Oseman when I learned about Radio Silence. Also, there was black biracial girl on the cover so that was a compelling enough reason for me to pick up her book! A US publisher bought her second novel, but the cover didn’t have the girl represented on it like the UK edition. I went ahead and purchased Radio Silence from TheBookDepository.com because I wanted to see someone that looked like me on the cover. I waited three whole weeks for it to arrive and the rest is history. When I heard the author had a brand new book coming out I WAS SO EXCITED. Unfortunately, the US publisher didn’t want her next book (LAME) so I had to order it from a UK retailer again. That’s how much I like this author’s work. I have to say her third book, I Was Born For This, lived up to all my expectations.

“I think the truth is that everyone in the entire world is confused and nobody understands much of anything at all.”

I loved everything about this book except the direction that some of the plot went in, which is why I took half of a point off. Otherwise, it was absolutely incredible. I Was Born For This follows an almost similar plot formula to Radio Silence but not in a way that feels repetitive. In fact, I felt like Alice Oseman brought all the things that worked her previous book but made it even better.

The book follows Fereshteh “Angel” Rahimi, an eighteen year old Muslim girl, who is very involved in The Ark fandom, an all-boy British band. What’s so cool to me is that The Ark’s members aren’t all white: Jimmy is a biracial (Indian/Italian) transgender boy; Rowan is Nigerian and the Alpha in a sense; Lister is bisexual. The entire story happens in the span of a week and we actually get both Angel’s and Jimmy’s POV throughout. Normally, I don’t like POV changes but here it worked!

Angel meets up with a girl named Juliet from online to go to The Ark concert. She stays at Juliet’s grandmother’s place but learns that Juliet brought a boy a long to hang out with as well. This effects the friendship dynamics, which you’ll notice when you read the book. In the meantime, Jimmy is struggling with anxiety and the pressure of an impending new band contract. Rowan is dealing with trying to keep his relationship with Bliss, a biracial Asian girl, a secret. Lister is self-medicating with alcohol and trying to laugh everything off. They all have their share of problems. Suffice to say, behind the scenes The Ark is quite dysfunctional and once Angel realizes this it makes her rethink everything she thought she knew. All these issues tie together and lead to a series of events that change all their lives forever.

Things I Loved:

  • The female friendships! They weren’t perfect, but they weren’t petty either.
  • The complexity of online friendships in real life.
  • The complexity of being in famous boyband.
  • The religious symbolism: The Ark. Angel. Joan of Arc. (Also, Jimmy is Christian or at least he has a close relative who is a practicing but he occasionally attends services).
  • The inclusion of diversity felt seamless and not forced.
  • How anxiety is represented. I’ve never had a full on anxiety/panic attack but I’ve experienced similar intrusive thoughts the way Jimmy has.
  • During the week span of the timeline, Angel talks to her dad on the phone and he is a very caring father. This is important because Muslim fathers don’t always have positive rep and I wanted to note that it exists here.
  • I liked the way Angel talks as if she’s just figuring things out and growing into maturity and not as if she’s already a fountain of knowledge. This contrasts with John Green novels where the characters all talk as if they have life figured out already! You can have complex, philosophical thoughts but I feel like it needs to sound like a sudden revelation. Anyway, I appreciated how we got to see Angel mature.

*Spoilers are crossed out*

While I enjoyed nearly everything about this book, I found it hard to swallow a plot in which the main character actually meets, helps, and stays overnight at the grandfather of a guy in a world famous boy band.

Even though I liked that Angel has this little adventure, sometimes I felt like The Ark obsession thing was the main event of the story. There was SO much going on with all the characters and I would’ve liked there be some more focus on their issues rather than the fact that half the characters are in a famous band and the other half are connected to the members in some way.

All in all, the representation was amazing! I liked every single character. Everyone is flawed and messy. Everyone has as a lot going on in their own life, which leads the characters to act self-centered to a degree. Sometimes when you go through your own sh*t, you’re in your own bubble so-to-speak. But at the end of the day, these characters do care, flaws and all. Ultimately, the lesson I think Angel learns is that she can’t place all her faith in a boy band because real life can be a let down and nothing and no one is perfect.