Are Villains Good Bad Guys? We have five of the best!
It may sound like an oxymoron, but there’s something about a good bad guy that draws me into a story every time. Maybe it’s because a well-crafted villain often has some redeemable facets woven into their very fibers. Maybe it’s the morally gray line they walk; one where we can understand their motivation even if we disagree with them. Regardless, I’m a huge sucker for a well-developed bad guy and the tension and questions they raise within the framework of a story. In no particular order, here are my top five all-time favorite villains.
The Hidden Legacies trilogy by Ilona Andrews. Two words. Mad. Rogan. Okay, okay. So I’m not sure if he’s really a villain, he’s more antihero, but he can level buildings and crush skulls and doesn’t feel an ounce of remorse in the process. He’s not exactly “boyfriend of the year” material, and yet I absolutely adore that this Big Baddie has such a soft spot for Nevada Baylor, the leading lady in the series. Watching their relationship develop as they’re forced to solve mysteries together is fantastic. We get tons of tension, both romantic and plot-related, and the banter is lots of fun. Plus, did I mention that Mad Rogan can level buildings?
Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo’s debut into her bestselling Grisha-verse series, features one of the ultimate villains in young adult fantasy, The Darkling. He’s especially dangerous because of how charismatic he is. As readers we see the oppression of his people, we see his desire to free them from the hate they face for their Grisha powers, and we can totally get why wiping out the people in charge is appealing. Why wouldn’t the most powerful Grisha want to bite the hand that’s put a leash on him and his people forever? It’s simple. Murder is never cool, kids. But damn his dark power and ruthless determination is so stinkin’ sexy.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black. The title character, Prince Cardan, is definitely not the kind of Fairy Prince you’d want to take home to meet your family. He’s cruel, toxic, and definitely gets excited about little things like ripping wings off of other fairies who don’t bow in his glorious presence. However, through his backstory, we learn about abuse he’s suffered, and while his behavior isn’t acceptable by human standards, it’s something that’s organic and real in the story Black created. Plus, even in his own twisted way, Prince Cardan seems to be protecting Jude from worse fates by acting like the Most Wicked Fae Around. We’ll find out soon enough about his true character and motivations when Queen of Nothing hits shelves this November.
Legendary by Stephanie Garber is the second book in her bestselling Caraval trilogy and is the first place we meet the deadly Prince of Hearts, Jacks. I mean, this immortal guy literally kills with his kiss and yet readers (okay, okay, me) still want to lock lips with him and tempt fate. He doesn’t have human emotions or morals and only his true love is exempt from the whole death-by-kiss thing he’s got going on. Watching him interact with his love interest and the lengths he’ll go to to get what he wants is filled with all sorts of delicious tension. I won’t spoil the final book, FINALE, but I will say that I wouldn’t mind reading more about this deadly thief, er, Prince of Hearts.
The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Listen, Adelina Amouteru’s transformation in this trilogy is phenomenal to read. Her…let’s call it a downward spiral, is the perfect descent into the dangers of power and how it can twist an alter a person. It’s such a rare thing to find a young woman in fiction who genuinely enjoys being bad, and though readers have all the reason in the world to dislike her, there’s something appealing about her that keeps us rooting for her redemption. Because certainly under that bad-ass, kill ’em all, and become the empress of darkness, she’s got a heart of goodness, right?!
One thing all of these Big Bad’s have in common is the hope for redemption. Each author crafted them with such a deft hand, they don’t fit nicely into a black or white box, but somewhere tucked between.
Kerri Maniscalco grew up in a semi-haunted house outside NYC where her fascination with gothic settings began. In her spare time she reads everything she can get her hands on, cooks all kinds of food with her family and friends, and drinks entirely too much tea while discussing life’s finer points with her cats.
She is the #1 NYT and USA Today bestselling author of the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. You can find her online chatting about her favorite books at kerrimaniscalco.com