Reed Books: Vengeful

Jess Reed, Editor

Vengeful by V. E. Schwab, sequel to Vicious, further explores the world of ExtraOrdinary people, or EOs, but with a wider timeframe and array of characters. The novel picks up five years after the events of the first book, and starts with a character not in the previous book at all. Vengeful could be read as a stand alone, but it is enhanced by its antecedent.

V. E. Schwab in 2018

The newest, and most interesting, character in Vengeful is Marcella Riggins, an ambitious, intelligent woman who survives her near-death experience at the hands of her husband and awakes with the power, and the desire, to ruin him. She fills the trope of the femme fatale, but in a more interesting way; her villainy is more cathartic than it is pure evil. She muses about how many men she must “ruin” – turn to ashes – before someone takes her seriously. As the novel progresses it also fleshes out Marcella’s backstory through a series of flashbacks, showcasing the many microaggressions leading up to her husband’s attempted murder. She is written off by the men her husband works with, her intelligence is discredited, and the woman she is friends with is the same woman her husband cheats on her with. So when Marcella sets out to ruin everyone in her path, it is as therapeutic for the readers as it is for her.

However, while the character arcs are extremely well structured, Schwab’s sometimes too-literal prose can lower the effectiveness of the scene. The writing of a book itself doesn’t have to be spectacular if the events are, but when it actively takes the reader out of the scene, it becomes a problem. In one scene, Marcella reflects on her husbands’ treatment of her. “Was that how he really thought of her…as helpless, brittle, weak, something ornamental, a glass figurine…? Perhaps she was glass. But glass is only brittle until it breaks. Then it’s sharp.” The problem here isn’t the analogy itself, but how long the analogy continues. At some point, this changes from a metaphor to a series of events about glass. The “then it’s sharp” line made me cringe out loud when I read it for the first time. For such a clearly talented writer, I was surprised that Schwab would include this kind of one-liner.

Still, she redeems herself with the rest of the book through character development and through the actual plot. Vengeful is a great sequel to a great book, and I hope the following novels are just as well structured.