Villains, villains, villains… They have the scariest ability to make a story unforgettable just as easily as they can ruin it. Antagonists can be the driving force behind the plot, they can mean everything to the main character and their development, they can create amazing parallels and comparisons. The best part, in my opinion, is that “villains” can be unapologetically, inherently evil or, they can be heroes gone wrong, a coin flipped. They can be hated for being Bad, yet still be considered Good due to the sheer complexity of their character. It’s hard enough to create a hero, but it’s just as hard to create a villain worthy of that hero.
And so, in today’s Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, I give you my top ten villains, bullies, criminals, and other nasty but fascinating characters. Some of them I hate, but some of them I love, and ain’t that the most amazing thing about the villains.
10. Sebastian from The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
As many issues as I have with the latter Mortal Instruments trilogy, one would think Sebastian wouldn’t make the cut. But he did. Because he is a demon and has no soul and how awesome is that. I mean, sad. How sad.
I do not like Sebastian. I don’t even like his story. But, admittedly, it was at times impossible to be 100% certain of his intentions: is he misunderstood, is he being manipulating, is he the one being manipulated, AM I THE ONE BEING MANIPULATED. One moment he is a doting brother, the next he is an obsessive murderer. It was wild, it was bizarre, and it was awesome. Best villains are the unpredictable ones.
9. Thiago from Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor
Thiago, Thiago. I never know where to begin with Thiago. The first time I read Days of Blood and Starlight, the second book in the trilogy, I loved him so much I had to take frequent breaks to desperately pray for him to not turn out to be what I knew he would turn out to be: a ruthless conqueror with a wounded pride.
He is a ruler, he is a fighter. He’d been groomed to be what he is since his birth. Privileged, charismatic, admired. He fights for his people and inspires loyalty in the harshest of them. At his core, he is a proficient manipulator who manages to fool even the girl who should have known better from experience. That takes skill, my friends, some serious skill indeed.
8. Regent from the Captive Prince trilogy by C. S. Pacat
Ah, the evil adults. Occupying the highest seats of power. Oh yes. Take the Regent, for example, a well-respected, well-loved leader with quite a following. He appears so loyal to his cause and his country that even his glaring, disgusting flaws are overlooked. And they truly are disgusting and wrong and gosh, just OFF WITH HIS HEAD already.
In reality, he is vile and greedy. But he is smart, so smart that he manages to play a deadly game with Laurent for the entirety of the trilogy. He is a master of games and court intrigues. His plans are so intricate and vast that they spill over the borders of his country. And if that’s not impressive, how many mortal men can exile two crown princes from two different kingdoms, take over both thrones without spilling a single drop of blood, and still look innocent at the end of it?
7. The Darkling from the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo
Hero rule number one: never trust the dark and handsome ones. Especially the really handsome ones. Who have powers. Really powerful powers. That can destroy the world. And maybe the next one too.
The scariest part about the dark and handsome ones is that you see glimpses of their true colours a mile away, but you still go with them, trust them, listen to them. Is it manipulation? Is it charm? Is it simply their vast knowledge of human nature, life and the universe? They are… irresistible. They are powerful. And the Darkling is one of the perfect examples.
6. Queen Mab from The Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa
Can I just say that it is such a shame there are so few female villains? All women are super women in their own right. Now imagine all that super part of them turning evil. Why can’t we have? WE WANNA HAVE.
But for now, we have Queen Mab. She is immortal winter fey, she is a ruthless queen, she is a mother. On their own, these characteristics are awesome. Put together? We’re diving straight into epic seas, folks. These parts of Queen Mab cannot be separated. She is all three, all at once, and it is a very, very dangerous mix. Turning people into living, but not breathing icicles is merely the beginning.
5. Roland from Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews
Gods, in my opinion, are tricky. Because, well, they are gods. They can’t be measured by human standards, no matter how human-like they look. They are timeless, they are limitless, they are immortal. But what do you do if your parents are gods and there is just no escaping them?
Meet Roland, a God so ancient even the Greek ones tremble at his name. (While planning his imminent destruction. Even though it doesn’t seem very probable.) He is one of those few villains who turned out to be exactly how I dreamed them to be: too much to comprehend, too much to understand. Roland is neither good nor bad. He simply is.
He also happens to be Daddy of the Year. Just ask any character in the post-apocalyptic Atlanta. But maybe consider not asking his beloved child. It might result in blood. Most likely yours. Because what a relationship! Whenever I think about all their could-have-beens, I tremble from excitement. Whenever I think about all their future possibilities, I tremble even more. And when I remember how the recently released Magic Binds ended, I just stop breathing altogether.
4. Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
How do you do a villain list without the darkest wizard of all times? Will it even count as a list of villains? Or will it be just a wannabe?
Honestly, I just have nothing to say. Nothing. His name alone says it all. While I sit back and drink my coffee and watch you tremble at the sound of his name.
3. Joseph Kavinsky from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Whenever I gush about Stievfater and her raven boys (spoiler: OFTEN), I always, always start with how magical her characters are. All of them. Every single one of them. Yet even in that sea of quirky, complex, magical beings, there are two in the Raven Cycle world that stand out the most. They just… Jump out of the pages and take over me. One of them is Ronan. The other is Kavinsky.
The uniqueness of Kavinsky is that unlike so many others antagonists, he doesn’t actually fight the heroes. Instead, he actively tries to lure one of them to his side. For what exactly, can be argued, and is bound to result in an essay or two. He is the Bad that runs parallel to Ronan’s Good.
On top of that, Kavinsky as a character is a mystery, based mostly on rumours. Additional information is provided by Ronan’s sometimes (always) biased point of view. Ronan and Kavinsky share such key similarities, yet manage to come out too different to ever mix well. (Perhaps, in another world, where there is no Gansey…) So to see Kavinsky from a perspective of someone who understands, yet doesn’t, is fascinating. Complicated. Wonderful.
2. Riko Moriyama from All For the Game by Nora Sakavic
At a first glance, Riko is a bully. His actions cannot be redeemed, no matter what kind of backstory he is given. He isn’t supposed to be redeemed. Which is magnificent. But neither is he a villain whose ultimate defeat brings immense satisfaction.
Because Riko on a deeper level is a tragedy. He is a boy who has it all and ruthlessly uses it to make himself a king in his own kingdom. But Riko wasn’t groomed to be the best, he was beaten and broken when he failed to be. He both earned his place and didn’t really have any other choice at all.
A lot about Riko comes from Nora Sakavic’s extra content, outside of canon. Particularly his very, very complex relationship with Kevin. But where the canon truly shines is, once again, the comparison between Riko the villain and Neil the hero. Except, words villain and hero don’t apply easily to these two, do they?
1. Sinsar Dubh from Fever series by Karen Marie Moning
Let me tell you a secret: there exists a dark, dark fantasy world in which the Big Bad is… A book. An actual physical tome of ancient fae spells. Very dark, very powerful spells. So bad that they had to be sealed away. Until it broke free. Oh, THE MAGNIFICENCE.
The beauty of Sinsar Dubh lies in the question of whether the book itself is the villain or whether it is merely an instrument. Everyone knows it is darkness sealed in pages. Everyone still wants it, is ready to destroy to get it, pay any price at all. It is corruption. It is, seemingly, unstoppable. It is a bad that believes it is good, as pointed by one of the characters. It is Evil that destroys you from within. Or is it?
I’m sorry but you just cannot go any more epic than that. Except that I’m not. Because let me tell you another secret: when it possesses you, it TALKS to you. And what talks those are! Magnificently epic, that’s what Sinsar Dubh is.
And that’s it for my top ten villains in books. I am about 99% sure I have forgotten to include someone very important and it will shame me forever once I remember, but that’s life, I guess.
Who are your favourite villains? Do you love them, do you hate them, or do you love to hate them? Do you find them just as important for the story as the heroes?