(Goodreads summary here.)
I know a lot of people were kind of disappointed in where Vengeful took Vicious’s story. I just am not one of those people. I think some of it might have been a direct result of this exact fact, that so many people didn’t like the sequel so much, that my expectations were a bit lower than they might have been otherwise. Because I knew people who were disappointed, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
And you know what? I don’t think I needed to worry. I never liked Vicious as much as the A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy, which I read in relatively close proximity to Vicious, so my expectations were never sky high. I also only read it in mid-2018, so I had not been waiting 5 years for Vicious’s sequel the way some people were. (Also you can catch my review for it here!)
So I really did love Vengeful. It’s not my favorite book ever, nor my favorite Schwab book by a landslide, but I definitely enjoyed it. I totally ate it up, and I was lucky enough to read the vast majority of it on the beach, which I just found really funny since it’s definitely not what most people consider a “beach read” (honestly, I live for reading things in the opposite situation as their vibe.) A lot of this review will focus on what I’ve heard other people say about the book, just because I’ve seen a lot of the same complaints all over the place and I want to put my two cents into those conversations.
This will have some unavoidable spoilers for Vicious, and then some spoilers for Vengeful at the very end, but, as always, they will come with warnings when we get there!
The first thing I want to focus on is the fact that a lot of people seemed to be disappointed in the lack of interaction between Eli and Victor. I can definitely see where they are coming from (I certainly wouldn’t have complained if there had been more), but I also think the circumstances were more important than having the two of them interact. Eli spends the book stuck in a cell. How is he supposed to interact with Victor from there? The alternative would be him escaping very early on, which honestly would have pissed me off because it would make it all too easy. I think a lot of the suspense at the end is because you’re expecting and waiting for their interaction for the majority of the book, so I thought it was perfectly okay to have that wait.
I also think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that most of the interaction between the pair in Vicious is through the flashbacks. But we don’t need those moments here; we got them already. Sure, I would honestly read a whole book on just Eli and Victor’s lives at Lockland, but that’s not this story. I really felt like Vengeful moved the story forward by doing this. Yes, we get flashbacks and Schwab doesn’t write linearly so we’re always a little in the dark, but I liked that we got to focus more on Eli and Victor as individuals, rather than a set.
On that note, I loved learning more about Eli’s past. I am an absolute sucker for a tragic backstory and a sympathetic villain, so adding those elements to his character were phenomenal. I think it really did advance his character in interesting ways. In Vicious, he was really just morally gray, someone who truly believed he was doing the right thing, even if we disagreed with it. In Vengeful, he maintains that, but we also start to pity him in ways we didn’t expect when Vicious ended. It was really just an amazing character arc I didn’t see coming.
Speaking of development, I really liked where Schwab took Sidney’s character. She was probably my favorite in Vicious, and everything I really loved about her character came to a head in Vengeful. I think so much of Vicious focused on her innocence and naivete, and Vengeful let her escape from that a bit in a way that highlighted her flaws and made her seem more realistic. While she is still definitely herself, Sidney also gets to feel more like an actual person, someone who isn’t always just doing what she’s told because she doesn’t know better. And some of it is because she’s older, but some of it is definitely because she’s been through some sh*t and she finally gets to show it. Her anger and frustration felt so raw and believable and went a step beyond the “angsty teen” trope.
Onto the real reason I think I loved Vengeful as much as I did: Marcella Riggs. Long story short, I wouldn’t have liked this book at all if I hadn’t loved her. Something about her was just so incredibly compelling, and I think it was just that she was a good, believable villain, and a female one at that. Women who are really, genuinely the villain of the story are so few and far between, let alone ones who are well-written, and I loved the antagonist Schwab was able to create. The one downside was that I felt some of her chapters got just a touch repetitive, which was unfortunate, but I will admit that I understand why they were like that. Like Eli in Vicious, Marcella is so single-minded that it seems to be all that she can think about, so her chapters showed that. I guess it just doesn’t make for particularly intriguing reading after a while. I can 110% get behind her “destroy the patriarchy” mentality and how she took complete advantage of the fact that others were going to underestimate her. She was just so convincing and compelling, and I’m so here for it. Also, I would like access to her closet, please and thank you.
As for June, I thought she was great addition, but I do wish we had learned more about her. I thought it was just a bit unfair that she was introduced as a new main character just like Marcella but didn’t get nearly the same amount of context for her. I know that it was just Schwab keeping secrets and probably setting herself up for another book, but I couldn’t get myself to appreciate June because I just felt like I didn’t know enough about her. It’s fine to keep readers guessing if a character is to be trusted or not, but I like having those guesses affirmed by the end, which I didn’t get. The other concern is that if there won’t be another book in this series, then all of those questions will go unanswered, and I think that is so frustrating.
Side note: please give me more canonically ace characters! I love that Schwab confirmed Victor’s asexuality on the page. If I do have one qualm about it, however, it’s that it’s done at a time that focuses on Victor’s sociopathic apathy towards others. I know that that’s just who he is, but it is also just a little problematic in that it can be seen as contributing to the “broken, unfeeling ace” stereotype that is relatively common. On the other hand, the reason I’m kind of okay with it is that most of Vengeful actually works to prove that Victor does care about other people and starts to negate that characterization of him. He ultimately proves that he is capable of caring about others and in ways that are linked to his past and personality, not his sexuality, so I guess it’s not as bad as it could be.
And now for real Vengeful spoilers!
Ready? I know that Schwab likes kind of open-ended endings (ha), which is fine, but what was that blackout letter at the end?! What does it mean?! I need answers!! My first thought was that Victor kills himself, which I am not only not okay with, but also seems out of character for him. I usually love ambiguous endings, but not if I can’t even tell if a character is alive or dead. That’s just not fair. Also, if another book does happen, I am very curious to see what a Villains book will look like without Eli. I am little concerned that it won’t be the same, but the last thing I want is for Schwab to pull a “Surprise! He’s alive!” I like to believe she wouldn’t do that, but I also know how much a fanbase can impact what an author does, particularly if the publishing company steps in thinking it will boost sales. I guess we’ll have to just see what happens. I probably won’t have to worry about that for a while anyway, so.
When it comes down to it, I think I just really love what Schwab writes, so of course I loved Vengeful. I think my expectations weren’t quite as high as I thought they would be, but maybe the fact that a lot of people weren’t thrilled with it meant I lowered them subconsciously. I guess I just feel like Vengeful was a very solid expansion of Victor’s storyline, with additions that really set it over the top in terms of how much I liked it.
Have you read Vengeful? What were your thoughts? Are there any sequels that were significantly better because of new characters?