When V.E. Schwab published Viciousin 2013, the world was in a very different place, as was its author. Five years later, its sequel Vengeful brings some major female villains into the world of the Villains series. It couldn’t have come at a more necessary time.
“Vengeful is a 2018 reaction to a 2013 novel,” Schwab tells us. “Vicious is a highly masculine book about toxic masculinity, about identity and obsession, love and hate and friendship and rivalry. Vengeful is a book about all of that and about the ways that women are stripped of and re-take power in the world.”
The sequel continues the story of friends-turned-archenemies Victor Vale and Eli Ever, but it adds some new villains/antagonists to the mix: Marcella Riggins, an ex-mob wife who becomes an ExtraOrdinary person (EO) when her husband tries to burn down the house with her inside of it. And June, a more mysterious EO who can wear other people like voodoo dolls.
“Marcella has a line in Vengeful where she essentially says, ‘How many men do I have to turn to ash before one takes me seriously?'” Schwab says. “She literally turns people to ash and they still look at her and are like, ‘Oh, it’s just a woman,’ you know?'”
Vengeful came out last week, the same week the women of America were bombarded with what New Yorker writer Doreen St. Félix described as “the patriarchy testing how far its politics of resentment can go,” aka the Ford-Kavanaugh hearing. There couldn’t have been a better time to get a new book that offers emotional catharsis in the form of women wielding power in great and terrible ways, not to mention an example of what it looks like when the misuse of power has real consequences for its perpetrators.
Schwab obviously knows what it is like to be a woman in this country and world. Vicious was her first adult novel following her success in the young adult fantasy market with series such as Shades of Magic and Monsters of Verity. The author put a lot of the feelings surrounding her experiences and observations making the transition from the young adult genre to adult genre fiction worlds into the writing of Vengeful.
“The sexism and ageism and all ‘isms’ I have seen in the genre industry over the five years between the release of Vicious and this, are definitely in there,” says Schwab. “Writers don’t write in a void. We write within the context of society and the time that we’re writing in. In those five years [since Vicious], I became an international best-selling author. I came out as gay. I found my footing in the world in a way I never had and in a way I hadn’t when I was writing Victor [in Vicious].”
Schwab considers Vengeful in conversation with Vicious, adding that she doesn’t recommend reading Vengeful without having first read Vicious: “I think the two halves of that quotation mark, the two halves of that conversation are really important.” It was a conversation that Schwab sometimes struggled to have with herself, at one point rewriting the entire book from scratch.
“I had originally written a continuation of Vicious,” Schwab says. “That’s all it was. It was a sequel to Vicious. It was all still about Victor. But what Victor’s facing in Vengeful is a little bit of a static problem. It’s not super interesting as a plot, and it’s really great as a subplot and my editor [Tor’s Miriam Weinberg] was like, ‘You have three of the most powerful women I’ve ever seen, why is this not their book?'”
The editorial note forced Schwab to confront her own internalized misogny and the problematic tropes she was still at least partially buying into.
“You can be a woman in this industry and still have a lot of internalized misogyny,” she says. “So it was really great that [Miriam] pushed me really hard. She’s like, ‘I’m not going to tell you to rewrite this book.’ She’s like, ‘I don’t think the version that you turned in will be something that in five years from now you will be as proud of as you are Vicious.’ She’s like, ‘I think you have the opportunity to write something extraordinary here.'”
Vengeful is extraordinary—a tale of great empathy and tragedy that also holds its anti-hero and antagonist characters to account. It’s clear to anyone who reads Schwab’s work that, while the author has learned, grown, and changed in the last five years, she hasn’t lost any of the wonder at what she does for a living.
“Sometimes I stop and I look around and I look around and I think, I write books,” said Schwab. “Like I make shit up for a living? How cool is that?”
It’s a responsibility that Schwab takes very seriously, even when she probably could afford to slack off a little bit.
“I have put my heart and soul into this book, and a lot of my sanity,” she says. “I rewrote it from scratch. I turned it in on December 29th of last year and I spoke to my editor on January 2nd and she was like, ‘This is a really great book, and if you had turned it in to me two years ago I would have basically taken it to print as is. But you’ve grown so much in those two years.'”
Schwab says she writes for herself first and foremost, which allows her to write with “pretty much absolute conviction.”
“These books are really difficult for me to think of objectively. I usually try to distance myself from my works because I know that they can’t appeal to everyone so I try to make them appeal to me. But these two books are so tied up in my own identity and I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how people feel about them in conversation.”
And how does Schwab’s first, most important reader feel about Vengeful?
“I rewrote the entire book from scratch. All 110,000 words, and [Miriam] is absolutely right: It is something that I am so intensely proud of.”