“‘You think I’m playing God? Fine, you play, Sydney. You decide, right now, who should live. Us, or them.'”
Vengeful is the second book in Schwab’s villains series, and it achieves a feat most sequels can’t; it was equally as (if not more) brilliant as the first. Brilliant pacing, structural choices and character exploration made for a stunning sequel that continues the stories of the characters introduced in the first novel, with the addition of new characters only improving the narrative. It was completely action- packed, effectively bringing new life to the classic heroes v. villains trope used so many times before, making for a novel that’s earned a secure place on my favorites shelf!
The structure is an aspect of this novel that I will never fail to marvel at. Schwab intricately crafts this story through a whole multitude of timelines and perspectives, and yet at no point does the narrative become confusing. In crafting her novel in this way, Schwab is able to deeply explore and develop the moral and emotional complexity of each and every one of her characters, which successfully reflects her skill for characterization.
Characterization is central to this novel, and is arguably the most striking aspect of both this novel and its predecessor. This is a novel all about good and evil and the grey area that lay between, and so it logically follows that each and every single character is morally grey. The development of Victor in this novel is perfect; we see him battle with his illness, which subsequently allows us to see him battle with a vulnerability that hasn’t been all that present in this character before. This adds another layer of complexity to an already complex character, a character that is incredibly cold and calculating and yet has a capability for affection (toward his found family in particular) that surprises even him. This added complexity makes for a character that the reader can connect with and understand, but not in such a way that his immoral actions are excusable, forgivable or redeemable, something seen further in the characterization of Eli.
So much depth is added to Eli in this novel through the insight into his backstory and the effects that the treatment of his parents and subsequent foster families has upon him. The events of his youth reveal that this is an individual that is deeply damaged, and allows for a deeper exploration of what religion means to this character and how it motivates his actions and shapes his beliefs regarding EOs. A perfect balance is created here between character and motive exploration and an assurance that such exploration does not excuse his actions and rid him of the blame for them.
The shared intelligence of both of the aforementioned characters is key to the development of the dynamic between the two, a dynamic which is central to the whole plot. Through this dynamic Schwab reflects upon morality by continuing to emphasize the importance of their contrasting moral beliefs and opinions of themselves. Both of these characters are equally morally grey, but their perspectives on their own morality makes them incredibly different; while Eli believes he is good, Victor realizes that neither of them are. This is a novel all about the recognition that together their intelligence makes them incredibly powerful, but this is a power that is not able to be achieved due to differing perspectives regarding morality. I absolutely loved this exploration, and Schwab certainly did a brilliant job of portraying it through her characters.
Furthermore, the addition of the new female leads, Marcella and June, added a whole new much needed dimension to this story. Schwab seamlessly added something that I definitely felt was missing in her first novel; strong female characters that had their own agency and weren’t merely added in relation to Victor and Eli. Marcella was incredibly complex, and I couldn’t help but love her character despite every single action she takes being morally dubious. This complexity is contrasted by the purposeful shroud of mystery created around June. Much of this character’s past is left to the reader’s imagination, and subsequently so are some of her motivations. This sense of mystery works perfectly since it is tied to her power as an EO, though I can’t help but wish for a deeper exploration of this character in a third book.
As for Sydney and Mitch, they remain as lovable as ever. Mitch remains relatively consistent in this novel, combating the underestimation of those around him with his true intelligence and huge capacity for loving and caring for his found family. Sydney’s power and the ramifications of using it are explored more deeply in this novel, as are her feelings of guilt surrounding the matter. The further development of her relationship with her sister and the ultimate decision she has to make with regards to her are key not only to her character’s development, but also to the exploration of the importance of found family. The dynamic between Sydney and June also shed a new light on this issue of found family, with June’s insistence that Sydney leave Victor and Mitch not only highlighting Sydney’s devotion to them in her refusal, but also introduces the idea of June wishing to become a part of a found family since she has no family of her own. This is an aspect of the novel that I absolutely loved, and would love to see explored more in a potential third book.
Finally, the actual plot was absolutely thrilling and there wasn’t a single moment where I felt the intensity slow! The introduction of more power, both in terms of the EO power and the integration of the mob and EON, made for a consistently action- packed narrative that was so much fun to read. Schwab’s talent for creating prose that flows effortlessly aided this, and the open ended nature of the novel left me eagerly anticipating the third installment which I desperately hope will appear!
Overall, this was without a doubt one of my favorite reads so far this year, and is undeniably deserving of the 5 stars I’ve awarded it!