I’ll try to make this review short, but I make no promises.
Also, if you want a taster of what this book is like, you can read this short story for free and then go out and get this wonderful book.
Because believe me, you need this book in your life.
Victor and Eli are friends. 10 years later, not so much.
(Come on a magical journey and find out why.)
That the sequel doesn’t exist yet? Because I want one really badly.
Also the movie. I need that movie.
I don’t even know where to begin.
We’re obviously not going to cover everything, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read the book so I can’t remember everything (I would read it again but every sentence just breaks my heart and it’s hard to get through that much emotional pain again), so I just want to discuss a few things instead. I’m sure if you’ve read the book, then you already know all the wonderful things about it.
For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a summary.
- Characters = Awesome
- Plot = Awesome
- Themes = Awesome
- Writing Style = Goddamn Beautiful
NOW WE ENTER INTO THE SPOILERS.
DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO BE SPOILED.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
The four most important powers we see (from Serena, Sydney, Victor, and Eli) are extremely morbid. Serena deals in emotional pain, Victor in physical pain, Eli in physical injury, and Sydney in death. Victoria Schwab could have made the powers more neutral and used the common tropes we see in superhero and fantasy fiction (flight, elemental manipulation, etc.). Instead she chose very dark themes to centre these powers around. It is a dark book, and our two main characters have questionable morality, so it is very fitting.
Victor and Eli
Victor and Eli’s first act (or at least, early acts, as well as I can remember) whilst having their new found powers is murder. They each kill someone the night Victor gets his powers, though Victor’s is accidental (which is arguable as he makes no move to resuscitate Angie afterwards) whereas Eli’s is deliberate (and terrifying). These characters are obviously not superheroes. They cause death without much remorse or compassion, and though their intentions are different, this similarity is more interesting. Two contrasting personalities that are equal parts ambitious and brilliant, both bent on revenge, and neither we can whole-heartedly route for.
While Victor is painted out as the natural villain (he is quiet, socially awkward, has the name and the dysfunctional family relationship), he becomes our main protagonist. Eli, on the other hand, must construct for himself a villainous character to fall into. Eli becomes the ‘villain’ (again, arguable, and far more interesting that way) of the book.
Whether the boys are villains or heroes is a tricky question, and is fantastically set out by Victoria Schwab. I flit back and forth between the two while reading, trying to figure out which one was worse than the other, but they are so different, yet so similar, that it’s impossible for me to decide. Is it a story of how a broken boy corrupted a perfect one, by pulling out the dark things he saw underneath? Or is it one of a manipulative student who ensnares his naive peer with promise of friendship?
Their ‘friendship’ is questionable, and I think it would need a reread for me to decide whether they really liked each other, or simply kept one another around because they were useful. You can very easily read it that way. Under their mutual respect was also a whole lot of jealousy.
Then again, I think of Eli and Victor’s deaths, and the other boys’ panicked reactions to those deaths, and I think that they must have cared for each other, even amongst the rivalry. Maybe because of it. Which just makes the present day all the more tragic.
The alternating between time periods is a brilliant device that establishes, right from the beginning, that this friendship will not work out, so the reader knows to start looking for the cracks. We know, right off the bat, that these two boys are extremely flawed – they will not develop into lovely, warm, redeemed men who ride into the sunset together. It will only get darker from here.
While the first half is mainly told from Victor’s POV, the second part opens up to more characters, most prominently (and importantly), Eli. As the second voice of the two appears, we start to really understand what sends both boys off into their respective destinies. Eli is as broken as Victor, and as much as Victor insists on their differences, they are frighteningly similar, too.
This review-thing is already longer than I wanted it to be, so let’s cut to the chase.
This book is brilliant.
You should read it.
If you want a light, exciting read about two boys that get superpowers and have to deal with the consequences, here you go.
If you want a deep, questioning book about friendship versus ambition, playing god, the ends justifying the means, and the nature of friendship, then take it.
If you want to cry a lot, salivate over beautiful writing, then cry some more, read it.
You can read it whatever way you want. And there are so many valid interpretations and so many wonderful things that you can take from it.
5 shuriken stars.
Time to sit back and wait impatiently for the sequel.