We relish a good villain, but you know what’s even better than a bad guy? An anti-hero. In contrast to characters who are evil simply for the sake of it, anti-heroes and anti-heroines might do bad things – but they do them in a way or for a reason that makes us sympathize with them. In many cases, they’re actually the protagonist of a story.
For the anti-hero, morality isn’t black and white, and the ends often justify the means. So while they might be up to something bad (or at least morally gray), these characters are also the hero in their own mind, and we’re here for it. Bring on the mayhem! Catch us lighting some book themed candles and diving into the misadventures of these guys and gals again and again.
Superheroes are fun, but they’re a dime a dozen nowadays. We’re more interested in what gaining these kinds of powers actually does to a person. (Here’s a hint: it’s nothing good, but it’s definitely entertaining.) In Vicious, V.E. Schwab introduces us to Victor Vale and Eli Ever, two wickedly smart college seniors working on their theses. Their joint research suggests that near-death experiences can cause a person to develop powers. Three guesses as to what happens next. Ten years later, a hardened Victor breaks out of jail and sets out for revenge. He’s merciless and murderous, but his affection for his found family sets him apart from the true villain of the novel.
For the YA anti-heroine of your dreams, look no further than Jude Duarte, of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series. Orphaned, kidnapped, and raised by her parents’ fae murderer, Jude grows up ostracized and bullied in the world of Faerie. But she also grows up clever, sneaky, and primed for battle. Knowing she’ll never be accepted by her otherworldly peers, she takes matters into her own hands, deciding, “If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.” That gets her instant icon status, if you ask us. From then on, Jude doesn’t hesitate to spy, steal, and even hold a knife to a prince’s throat if it will help her grow more powerful.
You’ve probably seen at least a few episodes of this hit television series, but did you know that it all started with a book? Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter introduced us to Dexter Morgan, a blood splatter expert for Miami’s police department. He also happens to be a serial killer. But wait! He’s not just any old murderer – he only kills “bad people.” Using his intuition and his position in the police department, he tracks down his victims and takes them out, with no one the wiser. Dexter is fascinating because he actually does have a strong moral code; it just so happens to differ from that of most people.
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch introduces us to the titular character – an expert thief, a con artist, and a gang leader. The first book in an ongoing series weaves in flashbacks that give us a good idea of how the mischievous orphan Locke grew up to become the infamous Thorn of Camorr, a master thief who tricks nobles out of vast sums of gold. As a child learning to steal on the streets, Locke stands out for his artistry and love of elaborate tricks and performances. Not the best look for an orphan hoping to fly under the radar, but these early lessons set Locke on the path to his destiny, and us on a fast descent into helpless admiration.
We know, she’s done some pretty evil things. But murderous, traitorous, and vengeful though she may be, Cersei of House Lannister sure does know how to keep us reading. And while some might deem her a villain for her actions, we’d argue that she’s anti-heroine material. The A Song of Ice and Fire series presents her as unerringly human, if overly driven by jealousy, rage, and fear. She’s up against quite a lot, and somehow always manages to grasp some sliver of triumph or exact a small piece of revenge. And we can’t help but celebrate when some of her more convoluted schemes succeed?