A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Antagonists are an essential part of storytelling. Even if your ‘villain’ isn’t an actual person, the protagonist needs to have some force acting against them for the story to resonate in any way. What’s the point of a goal if there’s nothing stopping you from achieving it? Where’s the conflict if… there’s no conflict?
Sometimes villains or antagonists are so awesome they’re even better characters than the protagonist. Sometimes you love them, sometimes you just love to absolutely despise them, sometimes they’re just flat out terrifying. I love good villains. Some I root for, some I just straight up loathe. Here are a few of my favourites (warning: there will be spoilers in this post!)
1. Leck from Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Leck is vile. He’s sincerely bone-chillingly frightening because he can pretty much trick you into thinking, feeling and doing whatever he wants just by using his words (if anyone recently watched Jessica Jones and went cold all over because of Kilgrave, well, that’s pretty much who Leck is too). Bitterblue is all about the horrors of his legacy, while Fire has an absolutely fantastic and terrifying first chapter in which we see an infant Leck turn into a child sociopath who manipulates, controls and eventually murders his own father. It’s both awesome and somewhat traumatic to read about him.
2. Snape from Harry Potter by JK Rowling
Voldemort’s not on this list because, well, I don’t actually care all that much about him as a villain. Snape is far, far more fascinating and engaging. And yes, it’s a bit of a cheat because he’s not really a villain. At least not by the end of his story, maybe not ever depending on how you look at it. But I count him here anyway because he’s pretty damn villainous sometimes and he’s definitely been on the dark side. He’s complicated and flawed and horrible and noble, a villain you can root for, a hero you don’t trust, a character you hate and love.
3. Cersei from Game of Thrones
(I have read the books, but not in a while and I find the TV version more exciting at the moment so that’s what I’m referring to here) This is another cheat of sorts because I don’t actually consider Cersei a villain; many do, however, so she seems to fit better on a favourite villains list than any other. I love Cersei. She’s a powerful woman who is strangled by the fact that she is, at the end of the day, still “just” a woman. She fights against that, but is punished for it over and over (hmm, sounds familiar). She’s cruel and she’s bitter, but she’s also so incredibly protective of her children and frankly I admire that. I find her absolutely compelling and enjoy watching her far more than I do Jon or Dany (*ducks*)
4. d’Albret from the His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers
Zero shades of grey here, but that’s fine. Some characters you don’t want to redeem, some characters don’t need to be balanced. Sometimes you just hate them and I love d’Albret as a character because he is so utterly, irredeemably horrible. There is no rooting for him, there is no getting on his side. This is a man who has abused and murdered multiple wives, tried to rape a child queen and committed countless other atrocities (including The Most Terrible Thing he does to Sybella). He’s ugly, through and through, and the fact that he can stir up immensely strong feelings in a reader is what makes him a great villain.
5. Ursula from The Little Mermaid
Need I elaborate on this? She’s just so deliciously wicked!
6. Thiago from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
I adore this trilogy. And there are a number of villains here, some vile and some sympathetic, but Thiago is my favourite because he’s somehow scary and sympathetic at the same time. He’s a brilliant general, a terrible leader and a monster. You can see his point of view sometimes, sometimes you even agree with it, but he’s so utterly without kindness and pity that there’s no predicting what he’ll do next or how far he’ll go. And frankly one of the things I look forward to most about good villains is seeing how the protagonist will beat them, and the way Karou puts an end to Thiago without damaging the fragile army is just fantastic.
Who are your favourite villains?