VENGEFUL was my most anticipated 2018 release, and it turned out to be my lowest-rated Schwab Book. Ever.
Schwab has always been one of my favorites, if not THE favorite. She’s a writing goddess, and my literary role model. I was planning on giving VENGEFUL a solid five even before I picked it up. It seemed inevitable.
I debated between a three and a four, and I had to go with the former before dropping yet another star, because it’s been a while since a book made me this irrationally angry. Not angry over lost potential or shaky plot points, but angry in a personal way.
I haven’t seen a single review mention what I’m about to say next (and if there is one, kindly tell me), so I’m honestly a bit afraid to get into the rather controversial nitty-gritty of why and how, but … *cracks knuckles*. Here goes.
My problem is with none other than our main character, Marcella. She’s portrayed as this super angry, super vengeful, rather 2D and cartoonish mwahaha-style villain with perfectly-painted nails, a sparkly dress, and flawless makeup; in other words, she’s aggressive but feminine. Which, so far, is great, because it shows that you can kick ass but maintain stereotypical aspects of femininity, which is not something that is common in the literary world, much less the wider storytelling one. So far, I have no complaints.
My issue arises with the sheer hypocrisy of it all.
One of the earliest instances is when Marcella seeks out and murders the woman that her husband used to cheat on her. The woman (who, if memory serves, was called Bethany) is described as having “more tits than brains” and is referred to, not once but TWICE, as the one with “tits up to here.” Um, that is ridiculously gross. Boobs are an object of shame now, y’all? Have we seriously devolved this far? And I maybe, somehow, possibly could have overlooked this had I not realized that this observation is coming from Marcella, who takes pride in her anything-but-modest clothes and whose backstories contain a significant chunk of weird semi-graphic and kinda bizarre sex scenes. So what, pray tell, is this hypocritical bullshit?
But no, it doesn’t stop here. We also get one of the most nerve-grating quotes my eyes have ever had the displeasure of reading:
“Some women spent years planning their wedding. Marcella had spent decades planning a hostile takeover.”
Um. Is that a “I’m not like the other girls” quote? In a 2018 book? In a goddamn VE Schwab book? Seriously? How disappointing. How plain gross.
This kinda reminds me of the whole bravo-for-Lady-Gaga tweet that praises her switch from pretty dress to oversized suit to “empower women.” Never before has a 280-character tweet angered me this much. Gaga, who is a victim of sexual assault, could’ve easily just said “I feel more comfortable in something modest that doesn’t attract weird creepy attention of my would-be assaulter”, and I would’ve been fine. But no. She states that “today I wear the pants” to symbolize female empowerment and solidarity, which is all sorts of self-contradictory. You claim to empower women by urging them to adopt more stereotypically masculine clothes? You make women feel seen by encouraging them to shed their femininity? So ladies can’t be strong unless they look like stereotypical men? Are we serious right now?
And here’s a disclaimer – i, by all means, consider myself a “girly-girl”. Some stereotypes apply to me; ie, bright pink lipstick is life, I feel more comfortable in dresses, and if my nails are not colorfully painted, I’m probably dead. And? I’m also an engineer-in-progress, you guys, and I’m waaaayyy more comfortable around computers than people. No, when I work on coding and go down to workshop, I don’t change my style. No, I’m not the only one who does this. I’m EXACTLY “like the other girls”, and trying to diss people like me and like everyone is gross and not subtle, and I’m here to make you own up to your shit-talk.
And also: I’m super sick of and over the “devoutly religious and deviously psychotic” trope. Eli, a devout Christian, justifies his murder of over forty people an act “guided by God’s hand” and whatnot, and honestly? Just stop. Please. We don’t need this in this time and age, where stereotypes run rampant and people are taking shit from others because of their specific religion. And if any of you are itching for a disclaimer, here ya go: I’m not Christian myself. I’m Muslim, and I consider myself religious (no, I do not wear the hijab; yes, I still consider myself a religious Muslim; no, these two facts aren’t mutually exclusive and I dare you to fight me over yet, ye Chads of the internet). So do you kinda see where I’m coming from, and why it’s so super triggering to see religious people painted in a negative light? It’s an overused trope that shouldn’t have even BEEN a trope in the first place. And it kinda adds insult to injury when it comes from (presumably, if context clues are enough, and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) an atheist author.
Other than the controversy? The plot was all sorts of slow and redundant. The messy timeline screwed with my head and was just plain confusing. I don’t know that happened to Victor, but he’s become some sort of apathetic sociopathic figure who doesn’t instill much love in him. Also, shaping up a character cast with no weaknesses cannot make me care for them. I need vulnerability to care. No one had that vulnerability, so the characters are just so obviously words on paper.
The writing is this book’s saving grace – that and Sydney. It’s gorgeous. Flawless. On writing style alone, this would be a 5/5.
I’m disappointed and angry and deflated now that I’ve sugar crashed at the end of this review-turned-mini-essay. I love Schwab as much as the next stan, but I cannot in good conscience ignore these issues.
Trigger warning for suicide, rape, domestic abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, body horror, and all sorts of blood galore. Also language, if you hate that sort of thing.