Resting Witch Face: The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

The Babysitters Coven - Feature

The Babysitters CovenThe Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams

Published: September 17, 2019
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Format: eBook
Length: 368 pages

I wanted to like The Babysitters Coven. It has a fantastic, eye-catching cover with an illustration of a badass girl facing down some presumably nefarious multicolored clouds. I am always a sucker for a good cover design, so it breaks my heart when the book doesn’t live up to the cover.

The elevator pitch for The Babysitters Coven is The Babysitters Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve never read The Babysitters Club, but I feel like you don’t have to read those books to understand what they’re about. Buffy, though, is something that I obsessed over to the point of distraction a few years ago, and I’m always game for stories that play around with those tropes.

The book starts off well enough. The narrator, Esme, is a snarky misfit of a girl who meticulously plans and documents her daily outfits, curating clothes along thematic or referential lines. She runs a local babysitters club with her best friend Janis, another fashion plate. She lives with her dad and a flatulent dog named Pig, and the only real black spot on her life is the fact that her mom is almost catatonic and lives in a mental institution. The snarky narrator is a stock character in YA fiction, but Esme lands a few solid laugh lines early in the book and I highlighted one or two passages.

Esme’s life is fairly normal until the day that someone tries to kidnap one of her babysitting charges. If that wasn’t enough to freak her out, Esme starts to realize that she might be able to move things with her mind. Everything comes to a head when a mysterious girl named Cassandra asks to join the babysitters club and Esme finds out that she might not be the only one experiencing unexplained supernatural events. Further complicating matters is Cassandra’s smoking hot older brother, Dion.

I started reading this book on May 10th, 2019 and didn’t finish it until August 21st, 2019. That’s a good three months and change. In the intervening time, I finished nineteen(!) other books. For whatever reason, I liked the book enough to want to keep reading, but I never seemed to make much progress until the last week or so when I decided it was time to power through and finish it. That said, when I finally got into a rhythm reading the book, I liked it less and less.

One of the biggest problems with The Babysitters Coven is that the pacing is deadly dull. After Esme and Cassandra discover their shared supernatural experiences, they noodle around without any clear goal for more than half of the book. The discover a written guide to basic magical powers, but they don’t receive an explanation for their abilities and responsibilities until past the halfway point.

When Esme and Cassandra finally meet someone willing to give them some guidance, their new mentor mostly serves as an infodump who speaks in cheesy jargon before disappearing for the rest of the story. The magic system seems ill-defined and without any real weight or consequences, but after the characters play with magic early in the book, they neglect to use any of their more complex powers during climactic scenes.

Williams jams most of the plot and action into the last quarter of the book, where everything falls apart and then resolves itself in short order. Esme and Cassandra don’t receive much in the way of training or information before they face a more serious threat, and then everything is neatly wrapped up in only a handful of pages.

To return to the subject of the elevator pitch, The Babysitters Coven is fully aware of its pop culture precedents. The Babysitters Club and Buffy are both name-dropped in the story, among other pop culture, as if lampshading the shared tropes will make it more acceptable.

I think it’s an interesting choice when speculative fiction interacts with some version of our real world via pop culture, but it has to be skillfully done so that the author is interrogating those tropes instead of just cataloging them. I’m sad to say that The Babysitters Coven is not that skillful.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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More Than Wordsmiths: Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Foundryside cover detail

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

Published: August 21st, 2018
Publisher: Random House Audio
Genre(s): Fantasy, Heist, Adventure
Format: Audiobook
Length: 19 hrs and 34 mins

Golems from Jewish folklore have always fascinated me, with their heads full of instructions written on a life-giving scroll. A golem is both the creation myth in miniature and a way to codify magic, a sort of early computer programming where the processors are clay giants. It’s strangely comforting to imagine that human beings could control the world in such a fashion, while also terrifying to imagine the many ways it could go wrong.

In Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett takes some of those basic elements and introduces a world where craftsmen use the art of scriving to write a reality-controlling language on inanimate objects and give them a form of consciousness; everything in creation is nothing more than a golem waiting for its instructions. Then, he imagines all of the ways that this power could and would go sickeningly, catastrophically, heartbreakingly wrong.

Sancia is a thief, and a damn good one, all thanks to her ability to touch any object and understand how it works. When she touches an object, understands everything about it, which comes in handy when she needs to pick a lock or avoid a trap, but makes it hard to focus when she has to tune out her own clothes.

When the book opens, Sancia is about to start a seemingly mundane job for a mysterious client: steal a small wooden box from the waterfront and deliver it unopened, no questions asked. As you might imagine, the heist goes catastrophically wrong, and Sancia decides she needs to know what she went to all that trouble to get.

Inside the box, she discovers a bizarre scrived key that can open any lock and that also happens to speak in a snarky voice that she can hear in her head. Sancia quickly realizes that she is in deep shit with any number of people who want to kill her, and she sets about trying to find a way to survive.

This wouldn’t be a book about a thief if there wasn’t eventually a bigger, more dangerous heist in the cards. As Sancia comes to understand the true stakes of her situation, she slowly but surely builds out a crew of friends and allies while Jackson Bennett unpacks her history and reveals the horrors of her former life.

Meticulous worldbuilding always feels like the “fun” of an epic fantasy novels, the part of the book that the author obsessed over, sometimes to the detriment of the story. Jackson Bennett’s worldbuilding is fun, but scriving is also the rotten core at the heart of Foundryside.

Sancia’s world and its wonders exist only because of atrocities that seem like ancient history but that happened not so long ago. The worst part is the revelation that the modern-day scrivers only understand a tiny fraction of the language of their ancestors, and all the power will go to the first scriver who puts enough pieces of the language together to remake the world in their image.

Foundryside is the first of Jackson Bennett’s novels that I’ve read. I had heard endless praise for his Divine Cities trilogy, and I’m sure I’ll read it before too much longer, but for whatever reason, I was more drawn to Foundryside’s fascinating premise and high-stakes magical heists. Highly recommended.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley, but I listened to the audiobook from Audible.

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The Silliest Quest: Kill the Farm Boy

Kill the Farm Boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

Published: July 17th 2018
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre(s): Fantasy, Humor, Satire
Format: ebook
Length: 384 pages

Kill the Farm Boy is a silly book that sends up and undermines some well-worn clichés of the fantasy genre’s hero narrative. It asks questions like “What does it mean to be the Chosen One?” and “Who deserves to be a protagonist?” and then unloads goat poop on them. This succeeds with varying results.

I read most of the book on a three-hour plane ride, and at first I did enjoy it. Somewhere in the middle, though, it started to drag a bit, and I still hadn’t finished it by the time my trip was over. Instead, I switched gears and finished Meddling Kids, which I read at a snail’s pace over the last few months.

I think part of the reason that I lost momentum was that the book started feeling a bit muddled, as though the story underlying the jokes and satire wasn’t as robust as it needed to be. Also, I was no longer trapped inside a metal tube hurtling through the sky, so I had more things to distract me.

The main twist to Kill the Farm Boy is that the protagonist isn’t who you think it’s going to be after the first chapter. When the book opens, we meet an unremarkable farm boy named Worstley anointed as Chosen One by a sketchy-seeming fairy who also gives Worstley’s goat the power of speech. Worstley and Gustave, the goat, set off on a quest to do something or other involving destiny and then the story takes a decisive left turn that I won’t spoil here.

As the adventure continues, the cast of characters grows and we meet an oddball assortment of misfits and outcasts. Each one gets some time in the spotlight, but it’s sometimes hard to tell which character is driving the story, and I quickly forgot the aim of their quest after putting the book down for a few days.

The general silly tone also means that the stakes feel non-existent, even when characters suddenly and unexpectedly die. Every death plays as comedy. Also, there are several moments where it feels like the authors are summarizing something tedious to save time and jump ahead even though the book still feels like an overlong joke.

I definitely laughed or chuckled several times while reading this book, so it was an enjoyable read. I just wish there was something more interesting underneath all the silliness. Not every comic fantasy author can be Terry Pratchett, though they might try.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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A Bloody, Surreal and Hilarious Trip: The Library at Mount Char

The Library at Mount Char by Scott HawkinsThe Library at Mount Char

Published: June 16th 2015
Publisher: Crown
Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror
Format: Audiobook
Length: 16 hrs and 47 mins

The Library at Mount Char is a fantastic book, but it’s almost impossible to summarize. Part of the problem is that a lot of the book hangs on misdirection. The main character knows a lot of things that she isn’t telling us, so we have to work with what little the author provides.

This means that to summarize the book past the first few chapters is to spoil some really great surprises. On the other hand, some of the bat-shit weirdness that occurs in later chapters is what made me truly, madly, deeply love this completely insane novel. It’s a bit of a quandary, because I want to recommend this book to everyone I know.

It doesn’t help that the book’s cover looks like the sort of thing you might find on a remaindered thriller in the bargain bin. The design doesn’t really grab you by the face and insist that you start reading the book RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

The basic summary is as follows: Carolyn and her adopted brothers and sisters are apprentice librarians in a massive, strange Library full of books that include all the knowledge in the world. When they were young, all of their parents died suddenly and a mysterious man they call “Father” adopted them. Father is viciously cruel, incredibly dangerous and infinitely powerful… but he’s gone missing and now none of them can get back into the Library. When they discover what actually happened to Father, it may change the fate of the entire universe as we know it.

Read moreA Bloody, Surreal and Hilarious Trip: The Library at Mount Char

An Unwelcome Quest: The Book That Reviews Itself

An Unwelcome QuestAn Unwelcome Quest by Scott Meyer

Published: February 10, 2015
Publisher: 47North / Brilliance Audio
Genre(s): Fantasy, Comedy, Adventure
Format: Audiobook
Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins

Scott Meyer’s Magic 2.0 series is fantasy with a science-fiction hook: a computer hacker named Martin discovers an all-powerful file that lets him control reality, so he travels back to medieval times and pretends he is a wizard. This fails spectacularly when he meets all the other hackers who had the same idea.

An Unwelcome Quest is the third book in the series. The first two weren’t perfect by any means, but they were at least funny and light on their feet where this one quickly wears out its welcome. It’s a huge shame, because this series was exactly what I was looking for when I wanted to have a few laughs during my commute. One definite bright side is that Luke Daniels continues to bring his A-game as narrator. Also, I occasionally enjoyed the last quarter or so after gritting my teeth and slogging through the fairly dire middle.

I think the only reasons I made it through this installment in the series are because I wanted to know what happened to the characters and the fact that I received a review copy. Unfortunately, one of the first big changes in An Unwelcome Quest is that the events take place almost entirely in the magical world instead of jumping back and forth between modern times and the past. This means that treasury agents Murph and Miller don’t even appear during the story. Their presence is sorely missed. Meyer also splits up his cast of heroes into two groups, with Martin – the main character in the earlier books – relegated to a supporting role in an ensemble.

The book opens with Todd, a psychotic ex-wizard, escaping from prison. He kidnaps half of the characters and forces them to run through a badly designed RPG campaign. When Martin and the remaining wizards realize their friends are missing, they rush to the rescue and run through the same campaign in slightly different ways. Both sets of wizards bicker endlessly at every turn, and the effect is more sour than funny. It doesn’t help that Meyer includes constant explanations and recaps at every turn, in case you weren’t paying attention during the previous chapter. This repeats ad nauseam.

There is also a running joke that all the enemies in the game have the same basic attack pattern, which does nothing but undermine the already very low stakes. In fact, the villain explicitly tells the wizards that the obstacles they face will only annoy them without actually killing them until they reach the climax. That final sequence is basically the only part of the book where it feels like the characters are in even mild danger.

In the end, An Unwelcome Quest feels like an over-padded novella. There are entertaining moments here and there, and I did actually laugh out loud a few times. Unfortunately, getting to those good parts required slogging through a lot of tedium and redundancy. I might be willing to read another book in this series if Meyer somehow course-corrects, but it’ll take some pretty glowing reviews to convince me.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley. Of course, I ended up going ahead and buying the audiobook version because Luke Daniels is a fantastic narrator.

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Wayward Volume One: Pretty But Empty

Wayward Volume 1: String TheoryWayward Volume One: String Theory

Story: Jim Zub
Line Art: Steve Cummings

Published: April 7, 2015
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Adventure, Magic
Format: Paperback
Length: 144 pages

The art in Wayward Volume One is probably the best part of an otherwise cliché book. The backgrounds are gritty and realistic in a way that feels completely grounded, and the character art is bright and stylized. Unfortunately, all of that beautiful design is in service of story about yet another teenager discovering hidden magical powers and using them to fight monsters.

Rori Lane is half-Irish and half-Japanese, which means she speaks the language but has a head of bright red hair that makes her stand out in a Japanese crowd. The story opens when she moves to Japan to live with her mother after a (so far unexplained) falling out with her father. Her mother works long hours and is hardly ever home, but Rori seems to have nowhere else to go, so the arrangement works.

There are the occasional interesting details, but they feel more like window-dressing than real characterization. Rori’s mixed heritage means she’ll never really fit in, no matter how well she learns to speak Japanese. The author plays with that theme, but doesn’t dig deeper than a moment where her teacher tells her to dye her hair black so that people won’t think she’s a troublemaker. We also learn that Rori is a secret cutter, but the revelation feels completely arbitrary and gratuitous because it doesn’t have any impact on the story. Ultimately it just feels like a cynical attempt to add depth to the story.

The other characters aren’t given much more depth than their magical abilities, but at least Ayane – a magical “cat girl” – is entertaining and strange. The story rushes through Rori discovering her powers and meeting other powered characters so that it can get to the fight scenes. I don’t necessarily prefer stories that dwell on characters discovering a secret world in plain sight, but Rori starts out the book lost in another country and ends up leading a team of magical teenagers in a very short amount of time. Additionally, the dialogue is oftentimes very wooden, reading as if Zub is trying to imitate English poorly translated from Japanese.

Ultimately the art and colors are the only things I actually liked about this book. Without the art, you have nothing but a story that relies on well-worn tropes, limited characterization, and dialog that is both wooden and unnecessarily vulgar. I doubt I’ll pick up another volume.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Rat Queens: Everything’s Coming Up Tentacles

RatQueensV2_CoverRat Queens, Vol. 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N’Rygoth

Story: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Art: Roc Upchurch and Stjepan Sejic

Published: May 19, 2015
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Fantasy
Format: Paperback
Length: 136 pages

Rat Queens is a modern spin on classic fantasy tropes that plays within those boundaries while also subverting clichés, and does so with a light touch. It has a great premise: a group of rowdy adventurers in a fantasy world fight, fuck, and generally incite civic destruction. The twist is that they’re all women, and they work both with and against other adventuring parties with similar mixes of race and gender.

The character designs are great, and Wiebe has a fantastic sense of humor. The character development is especially well-done, and each of the women at the center of the story feel both fully developed and entirely unique. In fact, characterization is probably the strongest aspect of the series so far.

I definitely enjoyed the first volume, Sass & Sorcery, which was a story about the team as they dealt with a surprising betrayal. This second volume, The Far-Reaching tentacles of N’Rygoth, tells a story that focuses on Dee, a semi-lapsed member of a religion that worships Lovecraftian horrors. I get the impression that future volumes of the series will tell similar stories that focus on each member of the Queens, so this volume is probably a good template for things to come.

Unfortunately, although I did enjoy volume two, it wasn’t as funny as volume one, and the pacing felt a little rushed at times. It opens with the Queens fighting against invading inter-dimensional horrors, and doesn’t really let up much from there. There are flashbacks interspersed throughout – part of the invasion involves strange mind control that distracts the Queens with hallucinated memories while they try to fight – so we do get a bit more back story for the characters, but it still felt like this volume didn’t gel quite as well as the first.

There was also a significant change behind the scenes when the original artist, Roc Upchurch, got arrested for domestic abuse charges and Wiebe fired him from the series. Stjepan Sejic, the artist who completed the last few issues in this volume, has his own unique style, but definitely fits very well within the established Rat Queens universe.

Although I do think this volume had a slight dip in quality, I would still heartily recommend picking up the series, and I look forward to future issues. Definitely worth checking out.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Red Sonja: Plagued by Chainmail Bikinis and Other Clichés

Red SonjaRed Sonja, Volume 1: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone and Walter Geovani

Published: February 19, 2014
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Genre(s): Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Swords-and-Sorcery
Format: Digital
Length: 184 pages

I don’t have much experience with Conan the Barbarian or Red Sonja; my dad had a pretty sizable comic book collection when I was a kid, and I spent many an hour digging through it, but he didn’t have many comics from either series in his collection. I think there was maybe one over-sized Conan annual in the entire bunch, and that lone issue might have been my entire exposure to both properties. I never watched the movie adaptations made in the 80s because they looked TERRIBLE. However, when I saw that Gail Simone is the writer for the new Red Sonja series, I became intrigued even though I’ve never read any of her other work.

All this is to say up front that it’s possible I am not the right audience for this book. Simone writes in her introduction that she’s loved the character ever since she was a young comics reader, and as soon as she got the chance to work for Dynamite, writing a rebooted Red Sonja was her dream project. She’s enthusiastic about the title, found great female artists to illustrate the covers, and wrote the book so that it stands proudly on its own, separate from the Conan mythos. Simone’s Red Sonja sounds like the sort of thing that should leap off the page, but for some reason the book just felt inert and clichéd.

The Queen of Plagues bounces back and forth between Sonja’s origins and her attempt to protect the only king she’s ever respected – Dimath, who rescued her from gladiatorial slavery and to whom she pledged allegiance. Sonja is smarter, faster and more skilled at swordplay than her foes, but she is also an unrepentant drunk when wine is at hand.  When two young warriors, Nias and Ayla, find Sonja in the forest and ask her to come to Dimath’s aid, she reluctantly follows. However, when she arrives at Dimath’s court and agrees to lead his army, she soon discovers that her old friend, Annisia, is general of the opposing army. Annisia, who survived the gladiator pits at Sonja’s side only to go mad from guilt.

The story in this first volume of Red Sonja isn’t particularly deep or twisty. Sonja fights her foes and usually comes out ahead; if she occasionally fails, it is only a matter of time before she finds new resolve and returns twice as fierce. Simone relies on tropes that feel well-worn but for the fact that most of the characters are female, with male characters relegated to supporting roles. However, instead of breathing new life into hoary old clichés, Simone’s version of Sonja feels like it only satisfies the bare minimum of swords-and-sorcery storytelling.

I think my biggest problem with this book was that the dialogue is never more than serviceable, and as a result the characters fail to rise above their archetypes. I never got much of a sense of Sonja as anything other than a relentless warrior; her solitary quirk is her love of drink, played for (weak) laughs in what is an otherwise deadpan book. If any part of this book was extraordinary – plot, dialogue or characterization – it would be enough to raise it in my estimation, but unfortunately Simone just doesn’t deliver the goods.


Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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Perdido Street Station: Words Upon Words, Worlds Within Worlds

Perdido Street StationPerdido Street Station by China Mieville

Published: July 29, 2003
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre(s): Fantasy, Steampunk, Weird
Format: Paperback
Length: 640 pages

After reading Perdido Street Station, I can’t decide what China Miéville loves more: feverish world-building or the sheer impenetrability of his prose, and I say that as someone who (occasionally) enjoyed the book. It took me a good six months to make it through that dense little tome, mostly because I only managed to read it in 30-50 page chunks about once or twice a month, and I have to admit that in the end I only finished out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

This was actually my second attempt at Perdido Street Station. I first bought it in 2003 and only made it about 50 pages in before putting it down for more than a decade. This time around, I gave it a bit more persistence, but it was never an easy book to pick up. Each of those 30-page sessions was hard-fought over the course of several hours, and I oftentimes found myself reading and re-reading passages just to make sure I’d fully comprehended their contents and meaning. I enjoyed many parts of the book, but I can’t help feeling a certain amount of exhaustion and relief after struggling to finish it for so long.

In broad strokes, Perdido Street Station tells the story of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, inventor and disgraced academic, and what happens when a disfigured garuda – a sort of half-man, half-bird creature – named Yagharek comes to his laboratory in New Crobuzon and asks Isaac to help him fly again. Yagharek is flightless, his wings removed as part of a brutal judicial punishment, and he’s travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles just to ask Isaac for his help. Yagharek’s gold is plentiful and Isaac is in need of a patron, so he soon sets off on a quest to restore the garuda’s flight. What Isaac does not know – cannot know – is that he will inadvertently set into motion a series of events that bring only nightmare, catastrophe and death to his city and everyone he knows and loves.

However, before the novel gets to the point where the plot kicks in, Miéville spends several hundred pages on setup, character development and a huge amount of world-building. If one of the characters visits a new neighborhood, Miéville includes a minimum of a few paragraphs describing how it looks, smells, sounds, pulses with life and interacts with the city around it. These passages are oftentimes beautiful, carefully drawn and incredibly dense, but over the course of the 600+ page novel, it becomes hard not to react with impatience when Miéville’s attention strays yet again to the architecture of his imagined city.

The idea is, of course, that New Crobuzon is another character in the story, but the problem is that Miéville seems intent on including too much of everything; the kitchen sink, a few bathtubs and maybe a swimming pool for good measure. Every new neighborhood has enough detail to support an entire storyline, but Miéville barely takes a breath before introducing even more obscure and bizarre details. What seems magical and fascinating for maybe a hundred pages or so becomes overkill when it just keeps happening past the halfway point of the novel.

Also, it doesn’t help that Miéville seems to delight in writing incredibly dense prose. I’m sure a large part of why I took so long to finish the book is that it felt like I was barely making any progress even though I would sit down and read for hours at a time. I was finally able to increase my pace a bit once the actual plot became clear, but at the same time I was a little disappointed to discover that all of Miéville’s baroque wordplay leads up to a relatively straightforward man versus monster story.

Ultimately, Perdido Street Station was a difficult book that I respected and sometimes liked but can’t help finding fault with as I think more about it. I’m glad I finally finished it so that I can mark it off my near-infinite list of unread books, but it will be a good long while before I pick up another one of Miéville’s books. Of course, there are at least three others on my shelves, waiting for me to read them.


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Vicious: One Weird Trick to Becoming a Super-Villain

Vicious by V.E. SchwabVicious by V.E. Schwab

Published: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre(s): Fantasy, Superheroes
Format: Audiobook
Length: 9 hrs and 55 mins

V.E. Schwab’s Vicious had a lot to recommend it: an eye-catching cover, rave reviews from authors I trust, and a premise that promises to toy with superhero and villain tropes in interesting ways. The problem is that I never really bought the way the main characters get their powers, and that ended up souring me on the book. It also didn’t help that Vicious seemed to have ambitions of subverting the genre but fell prey to some of its hoariest clichés.

Victor Vale and Eli Cardale are college roommates and unlikely best friends. Victor is an anti-social misfit and Eli has every appearance of all-American normality, but as they get to know each other, it quickly becomes clear that they share not only an ambitious drive to succeed but also a darkness boiling just under the surface. Their relationship comes to a crucial turning point when Eli starts working on a term paper examining the source of “extra ordinaries” or “EOs” – near-mythical human beings with super-powers – and Victor suggests they try to put Eli’s findings into practice.

When Eli brings up the topic of EOs, that is the first real hint we’re given that we are dealing with a world that isn’t quite our own. Eli mentions EOs and everyone in his class knows what he means, but the world of Vicious doesn’t seem to have the concept of traditional comic book superheroes and villains. EOs may exist, but they certainly don’t run around wearing capes or acting under flamboyant pseudonyms.

Honestly, I think this reveal is where I started having problems with Vicious. The world-building felt a little shaky at this point and things only got worse from there. After Eli announces his intention to write about EOs, it isn’t long before he theorizes that near-death experiences are connected to EO powers and Victor convinces him to test that out. Before you know it, they’ve performed a few incredibly irresponsible experiments and become super-powered under conditions that just feel trivial.

Eli and Victor’s experiments aren’t at all scientific or rigorous, and Schwab never provides an explanation for their powers that I found satisfactory. The only thing that made sense to me was that they must live in an alternate universe where anyone who almost dies comes back super-powered. That would create a lot of EOs, but doesn’t jibe with the way everyone in Vicious treats EOs as nothing more than a fanciful rumor until Victor and Eli start digging into the subject. Schwab tells us how EOs happen but never explains why, and that bothered me the whole time I was reading.

It’s a shame, really, that I got so hung up on the basic building blocks of this story, because Vicious was reasonably entertaining at points. The characterization was decent, the moral grey areas were impressively large, and the details of the world were tantalizing enough that I wanted to know more than Schwab delivered.

Vicious is a book with a few cool ideas that ultimately don’t pay off, but I do think it speaks to the potential of its author. I’ll be curious to see what else Schwab writes, and it’s possible I’ll give another one of her books a shot some day. Unfortunately, this one just wasn’t my cup of tea.


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