Review: ‘Vengeful’ by V.E. Schwab features one of the best villains in years
A lust for vengeance is as strong as any superpower in V.E. Schwab’s long-awaited follow-up to her 2013 novel Vicious. It was well worth the wait.
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.
Temptation is, in so many ways, at the heart of Vicious — that temptation for power, knowledge, glory. And Vengeful responds (shouts!) in like with its own spin on temptation — the temptation of anger, betrayal and (above all else) revenge.
So the story begins with Marcella Riggins. The housewife of a bigshot mobster, Marcella has been cast aside in the shadows, never allowed to truly shine — at least until her devastating brush with death at the hands of someone she had once trusted and adored. When she survives her would-be death, she has only one thought on her mind: ruin. And thankfully for her (and unfortunately for everyone else), she obtains the power to do just that. With a single touch, she can erode anything and anyone who stands in her way.
And from there, Schwab chronicles the rise of one of the greatest villains I’ve read in years.
Marcella embodies the classic and dark femme fatale in many ways — beautiful, mysterious, dangerous. And yet while so many writers would maybe leave their supervillain at that, Schwab builds on her character, adding layers of depth. The thing is, there’s a lot to be said about the femme fatale trope. At its core is the male fantasy of the seductress but also the male fear of the deceitful woman. It’s a trope that, in the same breath, pins women as both sexual fascinations and entities to be wary of. And it boils female strength down to sexual capability rather than inner-character.
Thankfully, Schwab’s brand of femme fatale is more complex than that. Marcella is beautiful, yes. And even more so, she’s dangerous. But her power isn’t rooted in sex. She isn’t to be feared because she’s a seductress. Rather, Marcella’s will and drive are what transform her into a force to be reckoned with.
And what a force she is.
On the one hand, you can’t help but feel for her and her plight. There’s an undeniable excitement surrounding the moments when she exacts her revenge on those who’ve wronged her. But there’s also horror — not just of the corrosive effects of her abilities, but of vengeance’s corrosive toll on the soul.
Of course, what’s a rise to power without some enemies? Enter the familiar faces of Victor Vale, Sydney Clarke, Mark Stell and Eli Cardale, among others. They all, in one way or another, become wrapped up in Marcella’s devilish schemes while battling the ghosts of their pasts.
Victor and Eli are still very much the focus in this follow-up. They too are consumed with revenge, particularly Eli, whose thoughts are plagued by Victor following the events in Vicious. Just as in the first novel, it’s hard to know which (if either) of the two is correct in ideology and method.
And that’s the thing about these books. You never know who to truly root for. Marcella, in her righteous fury, is terrifying. Victor, in his regretful sorrow, is despicable. And Eli, for all his logic and Godly devotion, is a monster.
I suspect that’s how Schwab planned it to be. In an interview with The Deseret News last fall, Schwab noted that she wanted to craft a story without heroes. Looking for a hero in any one of these characters is a fool’s errand.
Still, the search is tempting.
Editor’s Note: Vicious and Vengeful by V.E. Schwab touch on some mature themes like suicide and domestic violence.