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V.E. Schwab’s Villains series asks a stunning question: What if a near-death experience could give you superpowers?
In 2013’s Vicious, college students Victor and Eli discover the answer is more terrifying than they imagined. Because gaining powers doesn’t make you a hero…it just makes you dangerous.
And it’s easy for dangerous people to get drunk on power.
Victor and Eli return in Vengeful, Schwab’s New York Times bestselling sequel released last week. Vengeful picks up five years after the insane events of book one, ratcheting up the stakes and introducing two kickass women with extraordinary powers. We caught up with Schwab at the Decatur Book Festival to talk all things Vengeful, including why she rewrote the entire book this spring, what we can learn from her female characters, and what she’s writing next.
Paste: Why was there a five-year gap between Vicious’s release in 2013 and Vengeful’s release this year?
Vicious was my first adult novel, and we had no idea how it was going to be received. It was really important that I designed a book that could stand alone. I was coming off of the Archive series, which I hadn’t been able to finish. And the last thing I wanted to do was leave readers with a cliffhanger if the publisher decided there wasn’t enough of an audience to merit a follow-up. So I worked really hard to design Vicious as a standalone with the hope that I would get to come back to this world.
Vicious had a slow build readership. So even though it had a quieter start than my Shades of Magic series, it has grown by the exact same increment every six months for five years. It was about two years after Vicious came out that [publisher Tor Books] was like, “Fine, you can do more of these books.” So I actively started working on the sequel in between my other projects.
I finally finished the sequel’s first draft late last year. And four days later, my editor called me—this was January at the beginning of this 2018—and said, “This is a really good book, and if you had turned it into me two years ago, we would have sent it to print. But I feel like you’ve grown so much in those last two years, and I’m not sure this will be a book you could be proud of in a decade.” She said, “If you want to go with the book as it is now, I understand. But I know you can do better.”
So on January 3rd, I deleted a 95,000-word manuscript and started again.
I spent all spring rewriting Vengeful. It came in at 115,000 words at the end of March, and I’ve never been prouder of anything I’ve done. The final product I owe so much to my editor Miriam Weinberg at Tor, because I would not have had the strength to do it. Halfway through the process I called her and said, “Maybe I could give you the money back and we could just not do this book. Because I don’t think I’m capable of fixing this book in the way it needs to be fixed.” I
was really transparent with it online the whole time I was doing this. I went to upstate New York to a cabin with my editor for a week, and we basically plotted out the entire book on notecards and then spent the entire week rearranging those notecards. It was a very ambitious book.
The day it went to copyedits in May, I just burst into tears. It has taken the full five years in one way or another to get this book to come out.
Paste: What was it about the first manuscript that needed required such drastic changes?
Schwab: I have always espoused the idea that a sequel should never be a continuation of the first book. A sequel needs to take on a new challenge; it needs to have new goals and new objectives. And if a sequel is only a continuation of the first book, then it’s not really pulling its weight.
The original draft of Vengeful was a sequel in the most classic sense—it was a continuation of Victor’s story. It had these two new characters, Marcella and June, that I absolutely loved. And they were barely there; they were subplots in Victor’s story. What Victor is going through in Vengeful works so much better as a subplot; his storyline is so strong in moderation. So much of the reworking that we did was to figure out the story balance between these characters.
I ended up shifting Marcella and June and Sydney to the main storyline—moving Victor and Eli to the subplots—and it changed everything. It didn’t diminish Victor and Eli’s narratives; it made them stronger. And I’m really excited by the result.
Paste: Sydney was 13 when Vicious ended. What was your favorite thing about returning to the character at age 18 in Vengeful?
Schwab: Five years doesn’t sound like a long amount of time if you’re an adult. But when you take five years and apply it to a character like Sydney, who goes from being 13 to 18, that’s arguably the most important five years of a person’s life. Sydney has the added struggle of not only going through those five years with a makeshift family, but she’s also not aging. She still looks like a child.
Sydney wants to be a woman; she’s looking around at people who are taken seriously. And she’s trapped in this world where everyone infantilizes her, including the people she loves. So much of Sydney’s arc is about figuring out who you are when the rest of the world doesn’t see you as changing in any way. It’s one of the reasons she’s initially so drawn to June, because June takes her seriously and treats her like she deserves.
Paste: What can you tell us about your two new characters, Marcella and June?
Schwab: I have a lot of fun envisioning the superpowers in this world; they’re tied very strictly to the way in which a character dies and what they’re thinking at the time of death. Marcella is an ex-mob wife with the ability to ruin anything or anyone she touches. June has perhaps my favorite power in the entire Villains universe: she is a walking, talking voodoo doll. She’s invulnerable as long as she’s wearing someone else’s image, but she’s traded vulnerability for the ability to be herself. She can never look like herself; she can never go back to her life.
So much of Vengeful, especially as it relates to Marcella, June and Sydney, is about the ways in which women are stripped of power in this world and the ways they choose to reclaim it. It’s a book about identity, about the body and tactility and boundaries. It’s a book about taking back space.
Marcella has my favorite line in the entire book—she wonders how many men she would have to turn to ash before one took her seriously. Even though she keeps killing people, men still look at her and just see a body. They look at her and see someone beautiful, and because they see someone beautiful, they assume there’s nothing more.
Paste: If you were in the Villains universe and could choose to die and come back with a superpower, what would you pick?
Schwab: I’ve been asked many times what my chosen superpower would be, and I think it would be the ability to control time—with the caveat that I would never go backwards. I want to be able to slow down, speed up or pause time. Because all of the problems with timelines happen when a character tries to go backwards, and you can’t. But I’ve always wanted more time, and I think if I could slow down time, I’d be able to live as much as I wanted within the confines of that rule.
Paste: What are you working on next?
Schwab: I’m currently working on three things. The comics, The Steel Prince, which is set in the world of Shades of Magic and starts this fall. I’m working on a City of Ghosts sequel, which is set in Paris. And then The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue, which is my next adult novel. It’s a standalone; it’s the closest I’ll ever write to a love story. So anybody who has read any of my books should be very concerned, because things don’t tend to go well for my characters who are in love.
It’s about the relationship between a French girl and the Devil over 300 years. A girl sells her soul to be able to live forever, and she ends up cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets. I’ve been working on that one for seven years; the first six I wasn’t ready to write it, and I’m glad that I waited.
Paste: Will you write a third Villains book?
Schwab: I jokingly say that every five years there will be a new one, but I’m not so jokingly saying that. Because when I wrote Vicious, the hope was that there would be two books. And as I was getting toward the end of Vengeful, I saw the ways to plant new seeds. My hope is that, as with Vicious, Vengeful can sit on shelves as long as it needs to without a sequel.
I will always make my stories closed-door-open-window, because I want you to want more. I’m not going to promise more yet, but I immediately emailed my editor afterwards and I was like, “I want to plant these seeds for later.” I never want readers to feel unsatisfied; I just want them to want more.