Book review

Review: Vengeful – V.E. Schwab

480 pages | Tor | Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Science Fiction

The digest: For me, Vengeful is an average novel which continually misses the bar set by Vicious. It isn’t an awful book, but I wish there hadn’t been so much hype around it.

I really enjoyed Vicious when I listed to its audiobook last year, read by Noah Michael Levine. I was disappointed to see that that narrator wouldn’t be returning to finish this supposed duology,* but I have to say that the new narrator (Jeremy Arthur) is also good at his job.

From Vengeful’s Goodreads page:

“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.”

As you may have guessed, as I didn’t particularly love this novel I will tackle the positives first.

What did I like?

  • Seeing some of the key characters from Vicious return was a nice touch. There is a bit of character development though nothing extraordinary in this department.
  • The abilities of some EOs are further developed, as the new powers we read about offer a wider selection than the first novel.
  • Vengeful does have its fair share of awesome action scenes, with a heightened sense of tension and threat often lending itself to the more important scenes. I think the action scenes were perhaps my favourite part of this novel, but to go into detail would give away key parts of the story as well as character details.
  • The audiobook narration was decent, but having the chapters announced as ‘Roman numeral XXX’ was annoying and should have been spotted and/or edited immediately.

 

What did I not like?

  • The returning characters felt stale for the most part and did not really offer much new development at all. Vengeful very much felt like the second episode in a TV series where the writers are relying heavily on the success of its preceding media. I’m not expecting an amazingly dramatic transformation at all, but having a character go through a bit of cabin-fever adds little to the story and was, in my opinion, boring.
  • Similarly, I felt that some of the new characters were edgy purely for the sake of being edgy. As the popular meme of 2018 said, ‘being edgy isn’t a substitute for a personality’, and I have to say that Schwab’s character development and exploration in Vengeful was massively lacking.
    • The new characters which aren’t flawed in this way remain massively underdeveloped in general. One particular EO proves to be absolutely nothing but a plot device which was beyond frustrating. It should be immediately obvious to any editor that an author’s characters are lacking, and that a couple of short passages about their history does not constitute good writing or storytelling.
    • I also felt like certain characters were generally under-used in the narrative, and whilst the final couple of chapters indicate that they will return in the future, that just isn’t enough to satisfy me.
  • The pacing is off, with the first half of the novel taking too long to set the scene without actually saying much, and the second part very much being a repeat of Vicious.
  • I also found the story to be of a lower quality than what we saw in Vicious. This ties in with comments already made, but when I finished my read through I was left asking myself if the last 15% of the book (which is mostly action and a re-run of Vicious) could make up for the first 85% of relative dullness. The answer was no.
    • I don’t expect every story to be fool-proof or water-tight, but in Vengeful I felt like there was too lazy storytelling. The number of times characters make (literally unbelievable) stupid decisions or just happen to wander on something by choice was far too high.
    • Don’t even get me started on the epilogue.
  • A lot of reviews for Vengeful discuss the strong female characters and whilst I don’t fully disagree with this, I think a more critical approach has to be taken to analysis this part of the novel. Is a female character still strong if she relies on the strength or position of the men in her life? For reference as to what I count as strong female characters, look at any of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books
  • One of my comments about Vicious was that I wanted to see more powers for the EOs. Whilst we do see a couple more it’s just… no. There’s just not enough variety for me personally to be satisfied. In a book 480-pages long, I’m not convinced that Schwab does enough with the powers we already know about to justify not more fully exploring new ones.

 

3/5 – average (at best). In all honesty, I was massively disappointed by Schwab’s second entry into the Villains series because I know that it could have been so much better. As I recently Tweeted, I’m going to be taking a bit of an extended break from Schwab’s novels. I have fond memories of the Shades of Magic series but almost everything of hers that I have read since then has felt lower quality. It is quite possible that I enjoyed the SoM series so much because I had read a lot less other fantasy than I have now. If you enjoyed Vicious, then, by all means, read this sequel, but don’t let the hype convince you it is anything that it isn’t.

*There is absolutely no way that this story is fully complete, and it feels a bit false to market this as a duology.

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