Hello hello hello, today is Halloween fourth and thanks to our friends at The Broke and the Bookish, we are here to tell you about villains. Villains are awesome. A good baddie can rescue a mediocre book and a bad one can ruin a good. They can be more iconic than their protagonists, particularly if they get a really great Villain Song. (The number of times I listen to Poor Unfortunate Souls is not weird, ok?) Maybe it's why I love anti-heroes so much, but the bad guy just has more fun. So without further ado, here are ten of the best and most compelling villains in fiction.
The most compelling thing about the Lord Ruler, Mistborn's GodEmperor, is who he actually is. His story is told through a series of journal entries at the beginning of each chapter. The first line of the book, "Sometimes, I worry I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am." is actually spoken not by our protagonist, but by a man named Alendi, the Hero of Ages destined to become the Lord Ruler. The duality of reading the hero's journal while confronting the legend's horrors is impeccable. And as this is a Sanderson, prepare for a twist.
2. AIDEN - Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
One of the most compelling tropes is a villain who thinks he's a hero, as is the case with The Illuminae Files' AI, AIDEN. See, AIDEN is programmed to protect his ship and fleet, but when a one two punch of the computer being damaged and an environmental issue crop up, AIDEN goes a little...extreme. The computer narrates its own destructive prowess while justifying its every move as for the good of the fleet. Compelling? Absolutely.
Am I not merciful?
3. Zombie Viruses - Feed by Mira Grant/The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey
I love an environmental villain. One where the only thing you can blame is nature and maybe a crazy scientist or two. That's why I only like zombie stories that focus on the virus and how it came to be. Both Mira Grant and MR Carey do this spectacularly, giving you a villain you can't reason with or directly fight, just its poor victims as the protagonists search for a cure. Add in questions of natural selection, predators, and next steps in evolution? Oh gimme that science baby.
4. Carcer - Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett's villains tend towards the bumbling and humorous, as is his satire. There is nothing satirical about this smiling, giggling, psychopath. The shivers one of his "ha ha"s induces secures him a place on this list, even before his rise through military ranks.
5. Emperor Ozorne - Emperor Mage by Tamora Pierce
Pierce spends the first two Immortals books painting Ozorne Taskhe, emperor of Carthak, as a cardboard bad guy. So when our heroine Daine finally meets him and discovers he's charismatic, intelligent, and loves animals? Hey there conflict in my young young adult. So much of this book is a reminder that Ozorne is a person. One who used to go to school with Numair and has family and pets and hobbies, none of which excuse his treatment of his subjects, but make Daine's final choice a lot less clear.
6. von Linden - Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Fuck SS-Hauptsturmführe von Linden. Let's get that right out of the way. This isn't a "sympathize with the poor Nazi who doesn't know any better" entry. Von Linden knows precisely what he's doing to captured British intelligence agent, Verity. What makes him compelling to me is his complete two-faced nature - brutal torturer off screen and calm government official on. Von Linden's mask compared to Verity's is a compelling narrative. And no one has deserved their ending more.
7. The Darkling - Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
"Fine, make me your villain."
Leigh Bardugo revealed she based The Darkling on David Bowie's Goblin King and suddenly my whole world made sense. The character's balance between ambitious despot and charismatic prince keeps Alina and the reader simultaneously in love with and loathing the character.
8. Cersei Lannister - Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
Oh Cersei. The morality of Martin's ASoIaF is decidedly grey and the Lannister queen is no exception. Driven by societal expectations in a patriarchal society as well as her own greed, Cersei's hunt for power is the catalyst for every bad thing in the series. And yet, her POV chapters make it clear that beyond herself, Cersei is desperate to protect and set up her children. She's being driven mad by a prophecy that she's misinterpreted and sees knives coming from everyone but the person who's destined to bring her down. When a debased Cersei, trapped in a web of her own machinations walks into the keep and thinks, "And hair grows back," let's just say I don't want to be the one who reminds the Tyrell's a Lannister pays her debts.
9. Smaug - The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Justice for Smaug 2k16
A dragon who took over a dwarven kingdom, spent centuries guarding his treasure, who was described as having "quite an overwhelming personality" deserved better than to be shot by a minor character as an after thought. No. Smaug is alive, he just flew back to the Withered Heath, susceptible to flattery and riddles and rolling around on a even bigger pile of jewels.
10. Leland Gaunt - Needful Things by Stephen King
The last Castle Rock story is the best. Sorry 'bout it.
Castle Rock has attracted a lot of villains. Rabid dogs, murderous presidential candidates, evil twins, aliens, but none so fearsome nor as capable of wanton destruction as the devil. Selling the towns citizens first their hearts' desires and then guns and ammo to "protect" those desires, Leland Gaunt's machinations bring about full scale destruction at the cost of the soul. Whether Gaunt is Satan himself or and avatar of Nyarlathotep, his careful and insidious chaos is compelling before the throat-punch epilogue.
There we go loves, ten of my favorite villains from literature. Who did I so obviously forget? And what do you think makes a memorable villain? Let me know in the comments.