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Literature / The Villains Series
aka: Vicious

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V.E. Schwab's Villains Series begins with Vicious. It tells the story of two college seniors, Victor and Eli, who discover that near-death experiences can trigger the development of superpowers. However, this leads to a falling out between them, landing Victor in jail, and setting Eli on a quest to kill any superpowered person (called EOs in this setting) he can find. Ten years later, Victor escapes prison with his cellmate, a talented hacker named Mitch. They pick up Sydney, a twelve year old with the ability to raise the dead, and with their help, Victor plans to exact his revenge.


A sequel called Vengeful was released September 2018. It picks up five years later, with the characters from the first book dealing with the aftermath of the first book. It also introduces a new group of EOs with their own goals and vendettas.

The Villains Series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Eli's parents were physically abusive.
  • Alliterative Name:
    • Victor Vale.
    • Eli Ever, though this is an assumed name.
    • Marcella Mason.
  • All for Nothing: Eli does kill Victor, but thanks to Sydney, it doesn't stick. He ends the first novel in jail, without Serena, and everything he worked for being for naught.
  • Anachronic Order: The first book's narrative jumps all over the timeline, in all covering a span of about ten years. The second book is told in a similar style, but the main storyline takes place over five years, not including the flashbacks of Eli's childhood.
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  • Anti-Hero: Victor is not a good person, but he's not all bad, either — and he's miles better than Eli.
  • Asexuality: Victor, as confirmed via the author and in ''Vengeful'.
  • Badass Boast: Two very good ones, in rapid succession.
    Eli: You can't kill me, Victor.
    Victor: I know. But you must indulge me; I've been waiting so long to try.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Sydney's a nice girl, but not one to cross. By the end, Eli's the target for her wrath, and she plans to leak the fact that he has a Healing Factor to whatever prison or hospital he ends up in — the way, his fellow inmates can can have fun with him.
  • Blessed with Suck:
    • Serena finds that life isn't very fulfilling when everyone in the world is forced to obey/try to please her.
    • The ending of the first book implies this fate awaits Eli in jail. Sydney considers leaking the information that he can heal any wound, since that'd make him a very tempting pincushion to his fellow inmates. Keep in mind, Eli's abilities don't prevent him from feeling pain. In the second book, we find out it's even worse; a Mad Scientist got hold of him and studied him via vivisection. Without anesthesia.
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  • Broken Pedestal: The events just before and during the novel shatter Sydney's respect and near-idolization of her older sister, Serena. Of course, your sister trying to have you killed tends to do that.
  • Cain and Abel: Serena lures Sydney out to be murdered by Eli, despite their former close bond, because she too believes something is very wrong with EOs.
  • Came Back Wrong:
    • A mild example. After Sydney resurrects Barry, he can't control his EO ability very well. Later also true of Victor; personally, he's fine, but his power goes on the fritz. He also dies and comes back repeatedly, which, unsurprisingly, isn't good for his health.
    • Eli believes this is true of all EOs. He thinks they aren't really people, just pale imitations, and that he, as the only EO he knows whose power can only be used on himself, has been given a mission by God to destroy them.
      • He has a point about the former. All EOs in Vicious except Sydney show a conspicuous Lack of Empathy. Both Serena and Victor agree that coming back takes something away from them, it's just that Victor doesn't care.
  • Cape Busters: Police officers are trained to deal with EOs.
  • Charm Person: Even when Serena isn't talking, mere proximity to her causes people to want her to like them.
  • Churchgoing Villain: Eli is extremely religious, and views his quest as a holy Mission from God.
  • Compelling Voice: People are forced to obey Serena's every command, even if that command is to jump off a bridge.
  • Create Your Own Villain:
    • Victor getting Angie killed is what sets Eli on his path, though Eli clearly had a screw loose from the word "go."
    • On the flipside, Eli getting Victor sent to jail sets Victor on his path.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Subverted. Eli thinks he's having these with Victor in prison, going so far as to think Victor's ghost may be haunting him. Then he finds out Victor is alive...
  • Death Is Cheap: If Sydney is around, the first death is, anyway. (Anything over one is much harder.)
  • Destructive Romance: Well, "romance" is the wrong word for it, but Eli and Serena are sleeping together, and it just adds another layer of screwed-up to their already thoroughly screwed-up relationship. Nothing like having to order your partner not to kill you to spice things up in the bedroom.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Referred to as EOs, short for Extra Ordinary.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Serena is Eli's right hand only because she knows that if she doesn't help him with his crusade, and isn't always around so she can continually order him to not kill her, she's going to find herself on the wrong end of his gun. (Multiple characters note that, although it seems like Eli is using the police, in actuality she is using them, just for him.) Needless to say, the second she finds a way she can get rid of him, she turns on him.
  • Driven to Suicide: Eli's mother killed herself when he was young.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Victor genuinely cares about Mitch and Sydney, especially the latter. And, at one point, he and Eli were best friends.
    • Just about Serena's only saving grace is that she truly loves Sydney. Not that it stops her from letting Eli try to kill her.
    • Eli genuinely loved his mother, as well as his aunt and uncle. If they hadn't all died, he might have gone down a better path.
    • Marcella did love her husband... which is why she's so, so utterly pissed when she finds out he's cheating, as she's always been faithful to him. (And then he tries to kill her, which pretty much ends the romance for good.)
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Stell isn't a good guy, but he finds Dr. Haverty's actions in imprisoning and experimenting on Eli to be morally reprehensible, and pulls strings to get Eli assigned to work for him, instead. Eli's still a prisoner, but at least he's not being tortured anymore.
  • Exact Words: Near the end of the book, Serena orders Sydney to go somewhere "safe", meaning out of the way of whatever blowup Victor and Eli are heading for. But for Sydney, safe is Victor.
  • Expy: Victor and Eli for Dr. Doom and Reed Richards—two brilliant former best friends who clash over science theories and a girl. Except for the fact that they're both bad guys, with Victor actually being slightly better.
  • Family of Choice: Mitch, Victor, and Sydney are this by the second book. (Good luck getting Victor to admit it, of course.) Mitch has no living family, and Victor and Sydney aren't really on good terms with theirs, but they all stick together and act like an odd combination of two dads and their daughter, and two older siblings raising their younger sister. Sydney even calls the guys her family multiple times. June is also a firm believer in this trope, saying families that are chosen are more valuable than ones forced on you by blood. She wants Sydney to choose her to be part of her family.
  • Face of a Thug: Mitch looks like he's up to no good, which makes everyone assume that that's actually in the case, when in reality, he's a nice guy.
  • Freudian Excuse: Eli's father was physically and emotionally abusive, which might explain a lot of his issues.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • June tells Marcella she should really try to figure out the limits of her powers, and Marcella speculates that she might not actually have any. In the end, she really seems not to, but that actually gets her killed because she doesn't realize she needs to rein herself in.
    • At the end of Vicious, Sydney decides to leak information about Eli's Healing Factor to whatever prison he ends up in, figuring that that'll turn him into a human pincushion. In Vengeful, Eli ends up as the sole guinea pig of a Mad Scientist, who continually operates on and even vivisects him... which is more or less exactly what Sydney hoped for. Though what Dr. Haverty does to Eli is so horrible, it's unlikely that Sydney would've wished it on anyone.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Mitch and Victor, respectively, when it comes to Sydney. Mitch is in general extremely kind to her, focusing on her education and trying to be understanding when she's being rebellious. Victor, though he does genuinely care for Sydney, is quite harsh and doesn't hesitate to lay down the law, or spell out unpleasant realities.
  • Gray and Grey Morality: The entire plot. No one's fully good or fully bad, and everyone is in it for their own selfish reasons (except maybe Sydney, since she got dragged into this mess by circumstance).
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Victor was deeply jealous of Eli discovering how to create superpowers, and became determined to get some himself.
    • He was also annoyed with his relationship with Angie, because it interfered with their friendship. Despite this, he did genuinely like Angie as a person.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Sydney is blonde and kindhearted, in stark contrast to her sister.
  • Happily Adopted: Eli's various foster families are all better than his abusive birth family, especially his aunt and uncle.
  • Healing Factor: Eli's power.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: After Eli's fight with Victor at the end of the book, the police refuse to believe that Eli acted in self defense, because he's completely uninjured.
    • Also, when Marcella goes up against Eli, she cuts loose and ends up destroying everything around them, including the floor, which allows Eli to break it and send them both falling a fatal distance...for her.
  • Hunter of His Own Kind: Stell's second, Rios turns out to be an EO working for EON.
  • I Have Your Wife: A variant, as June doesn't need to kidnap someone to hurt them—all she needs to do is be able to assume their form, and then hurt herself, as injuries are always transferred to the original. She makes Victor help her by turning into Mitch and holding a gun to her own head.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: In a way. Why doesn't June just force Sydney away from Victor, as she clearly thinks would be best for her, and she later demonstrates she is capable of doing? Because she wants Sydney to choose to come with her, of her own free will, not be forced into it.
  • I Warned You: In Vengeful, Eli is unsympathetic when EON has difficulty capturing Victor — as he continually points out, he told them to burn his body five years ago.
  • It's All About Me: Victor, Victor, Victor! The entire plot is kicked off because he can't stand the idea of being in Eli's shadow.
    Victor Vale was not a fucking sidekick.
  • Karmic Death: Marcella's husband tries to kill her. She winds up coming back as an EO, and kills him instead. Very, very painfully.
  • Killed Off for Real: So far, Eli, Marcella, Stell, and Serena are all dead-for-real. Eli and Stell still have bodies intact as of the end of Vengeful, meaning they conceivably could come back in any future installments, but Serena and Marcella aren't so lucky.
  • Knight Templar: Eli sees other EOs as evil by definition. He sees his killings as not just good, but holy.
  • Lackof Empathy: It's what EOs give up for power, along with compassion and a general ability to care about others. Victor and Eli are the most glaring examples and both have routines or rules they follow to emulate empathy. However, it is not complete as the Even Evil Has Loved Ones examples above show.
  • Lady Macbeth: Marcella was a classic example to her mobster husband, pushing him to get further into the business so they (or rather, she) could gain more power. After becoming an EO, she kills him and seizes control herself.
  • Lost Lenore: Angie, for both Victor and Eli.
  • Mad Scientist: Victor and Eli, technically. Their process for discovering EOs is very scientific, as well as very dangerous and quite insane.
  • Mafia Princess: Subverted by Marcella. She's not content with letting her husband run the mob while she enjoys the benefits — she wants the power and prestige that comes with being the boss.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Victor shares his first name with Dr. Doom, of whom he is an Expy.
    • Dominic Rusher has powers that make him appear as though he's teleporting.
    • "Serena" is very close to "Sirena," a Greek name that references the sirens — beautiful women who used their Compelling Voices to lure people to their doom. Just like Serena Clarke.
    • "Angie," as in "Angelica," which, of course, means "Angel."Angie Knight dies.
    • "Marcella" ultimately derives from "Mars", the Roman god of war. You do not want to mess with her.
  • Meaningful Rename: Eli changed his last name from Cardale to Ever, partially to shed his connection to his abusive family and partially because he thinks all the best superheroes have alliterative names.
    • Marcella goes back to using her maiden name of Morgan after her husband's attempt to murder her.
  • Mission from God: Eli thinks he's on one, but he's hopelessly deluded.
  • Mistaken for Suicidal: Victor's first attempt at a near death experience lands him in therapy.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: June turns on Marcella when the latter threatens Sydney's life, which ultimately gets Marcella killed.
  • Morality Pet: Sydney brings out whatever good is left in Victor. He even admits to her that he won't tell her exactly what he's up to, because he's afraid it'd make her lose respect in him. In the second book, she also wins June's affection and protection.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate:
    • Victor would be this, except the prison sentence prevented him from getting his doctorate. He's a touch bitter about this.
    • Dr. Haverty, who experiments on and vivisects Eli in the second book.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Serena gets hit with this about a half-second before Eli tries to kill Sydney.
  • Nice Guy: Mitch is a genuinely friendly, nice person who just so happens to have phenomenally bad luck. It's very telling that even when he decided Then Let Me Be Evil, he chose a crime in which no one would be hurt.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Angie gets a text from Victor asking for help, and without a second thought, drops everything to help her friend. This sets off a chain of events that gets her killed.
  • Not Growing Up Sucks: Well, Sydney does age, but very, very slowly. By the second book, she's pretty sick of being treated like a child by everyone who looks at her, even though she's now eighteen years old.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Eli and Victor are both very insistent that they take the other out.
  • Parental Substitute: Mitch acts like this to Sydney, even taking it upon himself to homeschool her. Victor is also parental towards her in his own way, but he's a significantly less... nurturing presence.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Poor Angie. Her death is what begins this entire shitshow.
  • Professional Killer: June. Her ability to shapeshift into anyone she's ever touched, plus the fact that she cannot be hurt while shapeshifted (the person whose face she's wearing sustains all damage she takes), makes her especially effective.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: Happens to Victor when he first tries out his powers. (Of course, having just gotten them can't have helped.)
  • Questionable Consent: Part of the reason Serena dislikes her powers so much is that she knows her passive "you want to please me" aura interferes with a person's agency even if she avoids imperatives—so she can never be certain a sex partner is 100% willing. Since Eli will murder her if she goes too long without ordering him not to, however, she’s fine ignoring this issue when it comes to him.
  • Self-Made Orphan: His mother was already dead, but Eli finishes the job by killing his father. It's hard to feel at all bad about this.
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Eli tests out his newfound healing abilities by repeatedly slitting his wrists.
  • Serial Killer:
    • Eli. One that believes he's on a Mission from God, to boot.
    • Marcella goes on a rampage through Merit in the second book, leaving piles of bodies behind her.
    • By the second book, Victor, too.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Sydney looks exactly like Serena, just seven years younger.
  • The Team Normal: Mitch is abnormally unlucky, but this doesn't appear to have a supernatural cause.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil:
    • After years of everyone assuming he was up to no good, despite him being a nice, upstanding sort of guy, Mitch decided to rob a bank. This lands him in jail... where he meets Victor.
    • When Victor learns that Eli's considered a hero, and that opposing him would make Victor a villain, his response is basically, "Sure, why not?"
  • Time Stands Still: Dominic's power appears to be a form of teleportation, but it actually consists of him stopping time and walking somewhere else.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: A near death experience is required to become an EO.
  • Villain Protagonist:
    • Both of them. Victor's a self-centered douche who has no qualms about manipulating people to get what he wants. Eli's a Serial Killer with delusions of grandeur. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen!
    • The second book also introduces Marcella, who is a highly ambitious mob wife-turned-Serial Killer.
  • We Used to Be Friends:
    • Victor and Eli were once best friends. To say they're no longer on good terms is a massive understatement.
    • Perhaps worse is Sydney and Serena. The two sisters were once thick as thieves. Now they're on opposing sides, and Serena attempts to have Eli kill Sydney.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Eli genuinely believes he's doing the right thing by killing EOs, seeing them as being against God.
  • Worthy Opponent: Victor and Eli's relationship is a little too personally fraught to really count (they're so laser-focused on each other that nothing else was ever an option), but Victor definitely sees Serena as this. When another EO helps him kill her and, surprised, says she's "just a girl", Victor sharply contradicts him, telling him that far from being "just" anything, Serena is the most powerful woman in Merit.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The way Eli sees it, if you're an EO, you have to die. Even if you're a defenseless twelve-year-old girl.

Alternative Title(s): Vicious


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