It’s been five years since V.E. Schwab’s Vicious gave us the story of Victor Vale and Eli Ever, friends-turned-enemies after a complicated series of events granted them both super powers. Their private war takes on mythic proportions, dragging other people along in its wake. But when the curtain falls, it’s clear that it’s not the end of the story.
The long-awaited sequel, Vengeful, arrives next week, leaving precious little time for a reread. Not to worry—here’s a handy refresher of what’s come before…
Split between “past” and “present” chapters, the events of Vicious are best explained in chronological order:
In the Past—Ten Years Previous
Victor Vale attends college at Lockland University, where he meets Eli Cardale in his sophomore year as a new roommate, after driving his previous roommate out. He believes he can sense something different about Eli, something hidden behind his good boy image. Eli comes from a religious family with a pastor for a father, and he was beaten as a child. Victor is the only son of two self-help gurus that spent more time on tour for their books than with him. When it comes time to select their thesis topics, Eli surprises everyone by picking “EOs”—ExtraOrdinaries, people with superhuman abilities. Initially, his plan is simply to prove that they could exist, and why. Victor is fascinated by the concept, and by Eli’s obsession with it, and begins helping him work out his theories. They discover that EOs are the result of a traumatic near death experience, and that fear is an essential component of their creation.
Victor feels increasingly left out of Eli’s life once the thesis work is underway—especially since Eli is already dating Victor’s first (and at the time, only) college friend, Angie Knight. Though Victor tries to help Eli with his research, he becomes worried that he’ll only be a footnote in the tale and decides to pose a more practical application of the theory—to overdose and let the near death experience turn him into an EO. Eli panics and pulls the plug on Victor’s first attempt before it can succeed, landing him in the hospital with an order to go see the school counselor. Eli, however, successfully gains regenerative powers after freezing himself to death in an ice bath before Victor revives him. Mesmerized by his new status, Eli discourages Victor from attempting the experiment again.
Determined to become an EO too, Victor asks for Angie’s help, and lies to her about having taken a special drug to help revive him. They electrocute Victor, and the experiment works; because Victor’s power was created through unimaginable pain, that becomes his ability—being able to give or take away pain from himself and others. In his first moments awake after his near death experience, he accidentally overloads Angie with pain, killing her. He tells Eli what happened, and Eli calls the cops, getting Victor arrested. One officer, Stell, is called in because of possible EO involvement; the rest of the world may not necessarily believe in their existence, but law enforcement can’t afford to ignore EOs entirely. Victor insists that Eli is lying about his powers and that Angie died in an accident—and that Eli might be the one who’s unstable. After being released by the police, he goes to confront his friend.
Eli insists that in coming back from the dead, something is missing from Victor—that perhaps all EOs were missing something vital to their humanity. Victor points out that Eli himself would then be included in their number, but Eli believes God had brought him back for a reason. There’s a fight, during which Victor stabs Eli, and Eli shoots Victor three times in the chest, leaving him for dead. Eli ties up loose ends by killing both his professor and a school janitor, to prevent anyone from finding out about his research or what he’d done. He convinces himself that it was God’s will. Victor survives, but is brought up on charges and sent to jail. He spends five years in isolation before finally being let out into gen pop with the other prisoners. There he meets and befriends Mitch Turner, a hacker who looks more like someone’s hired muscle. He slowly makes plans to break out of prison…
Victor breaks out of prison with Mitch at his side and comes across a 13-year-old girl named Sydney Clarke, who’s just been shot in the arm. Victor takes her in, suspecting that she’s an EO as well. This turns out to be true: Sydney Clarke can raise the dead. Victor finds out that Eli has positioned himself as a hero, foiling a bank robbery in the city of Merit—and he hasn’t aged a day since they last met. It turns out that Eli’s image as a hero is a masquerade; in truth, he’s been finding fellow EOs and executing them, believing that he’s doing the world a service.
Eli (who now goes by the name Eli Ever, as he’d told Victor he planned to do years ago) has his own methods of research and murder until he tries to kill a young woman named Serena Clarke—Sydney’s sister. Made an EO in the same accident that turned Sydney, Serena’s power is the ability to force people to do what she wants by merely commanding them verbally. She notices that Eli is following her and compels him to tell her his plans. She tells him not to kill her that day. And the next day. And the day after that.
This results in a partnership, particularly after she brings the Merit police in on Eli’s operation; Detective Stell and his protege Officer Dane were investigating Eli’s murders, but Serena brings them into her home and tells them that Eli is a hero and that they should give them access to the police database where they tag potential EOs, so that it’s easier for Eli to find and kill them. They do as she asks. Eli isn’t happy that Serena has control over him, but he doesn’t have much choice. He does demand that they kill Serena’s sister, so Serena calls Sydney up to the city for the weekend. She introduces the girl to Eli and they ask her to demonstrate her power before Eli shoots Sydney—but he only hits her arm because Serena knocks the gun away in a moment of sympathy for her sister. This is how Victor comes across the girl, hours later. Mitch and Victor form a protective bond with the girl, and Victor enlists her help in flushing Eli out in the open by having her revive the bank robber Eli had killed.
Mitch gains access to the police database of potential EOs, so they can find out who Eli is targeting, but there are very few left in Merit. After killing Officer Dane and learning about Serena’s power (which Sydney was unaware of), Victor is able to leave Eli a message and tells him that they will settle things between them at midnight. Knowing that Victor is back in the picture, Serena insists on meeting with the entire Merit PD to tell them about Victor and compel them to aid Eli.
Victor then realizes that one of the EOs left on the database, a man named Dominic Rusher, might have a useful ability and that he also lives with an extraordinary amount of pain—which Victor can alleviate. Both Mitch and Eli enter the same dive bar to corner Dominic, but Mitch talks to him first. After getting Dominic to leave the bar to talk to Victor, Mitch heads into the bathroom and is cornered by Eli, who shoots him. Luckily, Mitch is wearing a bulletproof vest. They add Dominic to their number—whose power is being able to drag people into a kind of shadow realm, transporting them in and out of places in what appears to be the blink of an eye (though it happens in realtime for him).
At the same time, Serena finds her sister staying in the same hotel she and Eli are staying in. She goes to kill the girl, but can’t do it, and instead tells her to run from Eli “somewhere safe.” Sydney is compelled to do as her sister asks, but safety in her mind means Victor. She goes to find him where his showdown with Eli will take place. Serena also heads there on her own and comes into contact with Mitch. She doesn’t realize the man is wearing earplugs when she attempts to compel him, and Victor is able to get the drop on her, slitting her throat. They burn the body so Sydney can’t revive her, as Victor knows she’s far too dangerous to live. Sydney misses her sister’s death and is saved from Eli by Dominic. Victor tells Mitch, Sydney, and Dominic to flee (along with Sydney’s undead dog, Dol).
Victor and Eli have their showdown, and Eli easily overpowers his former friend, never realizing that this was part of the plan all along—due to his power, he comes out of the confrontation without a scratch, having brutally murdered Victor. The cops show up as Serena instructed them to, but since she is dead they are free from her power, and arrest Eli for murder.
Sydney, Mitch, and Dominic feel their pain rush back to them, a sure sign that Victor is dead. Soon after, the trio head into the graveyard and dig up Victor. Sydney touches Victor and brings him back to life…
Now we’re officially all caught up and ready for Vengeful, where we can likely count on another showdown.
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…