October 23, 2018

Moral Ambiguity is my Cup of Tea | My Favorite Anti-Heroes and Gray Villains

My favorite villains are the ones who may not be evil. I love a good villain who can convince me that they are the hero of their own story. I love conflict between right and wrong that doesn't have a clear answer, as the line between good and bad is rarely clear in the real world either.

In short, I like it when villains make me think. They need to have a good backstory. They might even be masquerading as heroes. Sometimes a main character is neither unequivocally good or bad, and I think that the gray area in between is the most interesting. I am interested in where the lines meet, when a character is not necessarily a hero but doesn't exactly fit the bill of a villain either.

Authors who can make me love a villain or root for an unlikeable anti-hero have clearly mastered the art of the character. Here's a list of my current favorite complicated villains and morally ambiguous heroes (and heroines!).

1. Lila Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic

Even though pirates are usually the villain of the story, Lila is completely different in more than one way. She errs on the side of adventure and thrill, which can often lead to the wrong side of the morality spectrum. However, when push comes to shove, she does she value in protecting the Londons and will help Kell keep the people safe even if her success rate is a little bit iffy.

2. Holland from A Darker Shade of Magic

I could read a whole book from Holland's perspective. I still haven't read A Conjuring of Light yet, but in my opinion he deserved much more sympathy than he ever got. His character is not purely villainous or benevolent, instead lurking in the area in between with complicated motives of survival and responsibility. 

3. Lira from To Kill A Kingdom

It actually took me a while to figure out who was the real villain in To Kill a Kingdom. The villain all depends on whose perspective you are reading from, and TKAK masterfully plays with assumptions and fears. Everyone pretty much hates each other, with the sirens stealing humans' hearts and the humans not wanting their hearts stolen, so I actually thought that Lira was the villain. 

But, I was completely wrong and by the end of the novel I applauded Lira as one of the bravest heroes ever. Her character development is so impressive, starting from the lowest point possible with literal human hearts buried in her room, to becoming an advocate for peace. Her position as the princess of a malicious race kind of forced her into evil, totally blurring the lines between good and evil. 

4. Elias from To Kill a Kingdom

Even though I knew Elias wasn't a villain per se, there were points in the novel when his morality was questionable at best. He was not above murdering if it meant he was closer to his "good" endgame of killing all of the sirens. Maybe his intentions to save humanity were in the right place, but his insistence on murder is a little terrifying. In the end, he realizes that mass murder is not the right thing and his character arc mirrors Lira's developing values. 

5. Cardan from The Cruel Prince

Honestly, I am still not sure what to think about Cardan. Is he crazy? Yes. Is he unpredictable? Yes. Is he selfish? Yes. But is he evil? I am not convinced that he is. 

As the youngest son, his moral development was stunted by being simultaneously spoiled by his rank and abused by his family. 

He definitely treats Jude terribly, but he also has his moments of mercy and surprising likeability. His sass and infinite supply of comebacks earns him a place in my top almost villains. 

6. Jude from The Cruel Prince

The world of the Fae is inherently morally ambiguous (a lot of murder, betrayal, and lying), so it doesn't come as a surprise that Jude has made the list. 

She has her fair share of struggles with murder, lying, and plotting against an entire kingdom. However, her motivations are intricate and cannot be simply explained in a system of good and bad. She just wants to live her life, free from the fear that faeries rule with. The introduction of faerie magic complicates the whole system. 

7. Kaz (and his entire crew) from Six of Crows

Technically, they are a band of thieves and criminals who operate a gambling ring. Technically the whole first book is centered on an elaborate heist. Technically, Kaz does not have a moral bone in his body. Yet, I still love each and every one of these rule-breaking, moral-defying vagrants. At the very least, they are not the lowest of the low, with the ending of the first book revealing a greater evil. But, does someone else's bad morals make yours seem good in comparison? At this point, I am too in love with their group dynamic to care that everything they do is illegal.

8. AIDAN from Illuminae

I haven't even decided if AIDAN is a real person or not, let alone if he is evil. As an artificial intelligence system, you would think that the distinction of right and wrong is not relevant. I mean, people would never program an evil robot, right? 

Despite everything he did, he honestly thought that he was right, even merciful. Like, that's messed up, but I kind of feel bad for him? If he was programmed that way, then he had no choice. Or maybe he did have a choice and just made the wrong one. Regardless, these are the interesting (and scary) questions that morally grey characters pose, and I love to ponder. 

9. Inan from Children of Blood and Bone

I know that this pick might be controversial, but I am only saying that he is a good villain, not a good person. He straddles the line and eventually falls on one side of it. But, his story arc follows his teeter-tottering between being a hero or becoming a villain. His arc (both ups and multiple downs) are complicated in ways that YA villains normally aren't. He has a backstory, concrete motivations, and  his arc leaves room for potential hope (or devastating evil) in the future.

10. Zera from Bring Me Their Hearts

In many ways, Zera reminds me of Lira. Both are sassy and their strength knows no bounds. Both are fond of murder a little bit too much for my tastes but ultimately have to face their own immorality. Zera's love life got complicated in a web of lies, magic, and betrayal, which apparently is my formula for a good moral dilemma. 

Zera's character arc was hard to watch at times with her progression and regression, but ultimately worth it for the kick-butt Heartless that she owned up to be. I cannot wait to get my hands on the second book to she where this progression takes her. 

Top Ten Tuesday is a list-based bookish meme hosted every week by the amazing Jana @ That Artsy Reader Girl
What makes a good villain? Do you like morally grey villains or do you like a more black and white morality? Who would have made your list for favorite antiheroes? I would love to hear all of your murdery thoughts and opinions!

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