Vicarious by Paula Stokes [Review]: A Diverse Sci-Fi Thriller

Vicarious is a book that takes you completely by surprise, because had you read Stokes’ previous books like Girl Against the Universe, or The Art of Lainey, you’d think this book would be another fluffy, entertaining read. However, if you’ve read Liars, Inc., you’ll know that Paula has a knack for creating a thrilling and engaging story that’ll have you completely addicted.

“I am not warm. That is one of the reasons I chose the name Winter.”

The first thing that hit me about this book was that it’s so much darker than I’m accustomed of reading from Paula. Our heroine, Winter, is a victim of human trafficking. As such, we see hints of her being plagued with PTSD and depression. Basically, there’s a lot of darkness within her. I found Winter to be an unreliable narrator as well; she was suppressing a lot of memories from her past that would have made us understand her better, not to mention her search for her sister’s killers is at time reckless and frantic, which makes us more wary of everyone and everything at once. I loved Winter. She was damaged, it’s true, but she still found a way to go on and survive in her own way.

“Where we come from,” I tell Jesse, “a girl needs an arsenal to feel safe. Beauty, her body- these are her weapons.”
[…] “Okay, then. So what are your weapons?”
I slide a knife out of the sheath still strapped to my left ankle, and set it on the table with a soft clunk. “Weapons are my weapons.”

I always have a problem classifying books as either mystery or thriller, but this book is easily both. Trying to uncover the mystery behind Rose’s murder is completely thrilling because not everything is as it seems. Winter uses Rose’s old ViSEs to try to find out what was going on in her life, using these recordings to put together different clues. This book had me going in all different directions, from gasping aloud, to covering my face, to having to close the book because I was too overwhelmed. I had a few theories in my head as to what was actually going on, but I wasn’t prepared for the actual reveal! I was shocked to say the least.

As if mysterious thriller wasn’t enough, this book also has sci-fi! Through a neural sort of virtual reality headset, users can bungee jump, swim with sharks, rob banks, all without actually doing those things. Each ViSE is a different experience, and in Gideon’s nightclub, Escape, people pay the right price to live through these. This aspect is incredibly well done, integrating sci-fi seamlessly into the book. It was so well explained that I had no qualms to believe that it could actually be real.

“Fingers to fingers and thumb to thumb. A pair of sisters like matching gloves.”

This book has a romance, one that I can totally get behind, too, but it’s very slight in comparison to the rest of the story. I was glad for this, because the focus was more on Winter and Rose’s relationship, on Winter deciphering her sister’s death, and also of Winter focusing on herself and her healing process. We see flashbacks of Winter and Rose’s pasts, and they’re things that aren’t easily forgotten and that can’t be cured by a romance.

Overall, Vicarious is a dark mystery about a girl trying to figure out who killed her sister. This has twists and turns like you wouldn’t believe, addicting writing, incredible characterization, sci-fi, and diversity! I really do not know how I’m expected to calmly wait for the next book, Ferocious, without losing my mind. At least this is a duology, but I still cannot wait for book two!


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