You know those characters that do the right thing, are kind to those they meet? And who always end up winning the day? Don’t you just hate them? When a person in a novel becomes too saintly, too perfect, too much that-person-you-can-never-be, that person becomes just distasteful and you actually find yourself cheering for the bad guys!!
Reading about liars, murderers, thief and narcissists can be fun. A good anti-hero allows us to cheer for a person that, let’s face it, are more like us than the perfect saints. The character’s on this list are people I would want to stay clear of in real life for any cost. They are despicable, horrible and dangerous – proper monsters! Still, as long as they have the one good (not necessarily redeeming) quality, you can emotionally invest in them and cheer for them.
Here are some books I can recommend if you want to spend some time with some delightfully horrible persons:
Harry Flashman (Flashman Chronicles by George Macdonald Fraser) is an unashamed coward, bully, liar, racist, womanizer, cheat and much more. This Victorian soldier is unwillingly involved in most minor and major conflicts of the 19th century, and although he spends most of his time shirking his duties, deserting, drinking and ‘wenching’, he becomes a celebrated military hero without being discovered as the fraud he is. I absolutely love Flashy, for he is funny and completely honest to the reader about his faults and always makes me cry with laughter. For Flashy is really, really funny and you always hope that Harry will accidentally stumble into trouble, accidentally get out again and steal the glory from the those that actually did the work. You can also sympathize with Flashy’s unwillingness to go fight. Who does want to risk their lives? Of course Harry’s unwillingness to kill does not stem from some high ideals such as pacifism. But we can all understand fear of death and pain, and Harry has that in buckets. The great Terry Pratchet named Flashman as the most enjoyable character he ever read, so what more endorsement does dear Flashy need?
Julius Levy (Julius by Daphne du Maurier) is obsessed with money, and willing to do anything to become the most successful, powerful person around. If that means using others, letting others die or lying, then so be it. But he is still extremely human! Although Julius does not see it himself, what he craves the most is acceptance, but the war he witnessed in childhood, the abusive marriage of his parents gave Julius some emotional scars he will cary for the rest of his life. He does very little to hide his sinister, creepy self from the rest of the world, but everyone keep deluding themselves as to what he is, including the reader! When I read du Maurier undeservedly forgotten book, I always cheer for Julius and want him to win!
Jorg Ancarath (Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence): We meet Jorg for the first time as he burns down a village, helps organize and participates in the rape of all the women there before he ensures that every villager (man, woman, child) are murdered. What a lovely person! Does he regret the mass-murder? No. He will torture, kill, manipulate anyone as long as that brings him power, revenge or just entertainment. What prevents the reader from throwing up? Jorg’s trauma in childhood, intelligence, occasional proof of vulnerability and acts of kindness, although these are few and far between. Also, Lawrence’s world contains worse monsters (believe it or not!). Oh, and also, Jorg might be the only person who can save the world!
Kepler (Touch by Claire North) is a ‘souls’ . That is a human parasite. S/he does not have a body of their own, but instead takes position of other peoples bodies. All Kepler needs is skin touching skin and s/he can take over your life forever. We do not know Kepler’s gender, her/his background, only the existence he leads now. Kepler likes to pay beautiful young people to let her/him rent their bodies for a time (the ultimate prostitution), and s/he used to be an ‘estate agent’ – he got hold of good bodies for others like him. Kepler’s very existence depends the ultimate intrusion upon other people’s lives (taking over their bodies), his profession is no more than the sale of slaves and yet you cheer for him. You want him to escape justice. You want him to one up the humans that are justly wanting to rid the world of his kind. You cheer for him because you understand his drive – we all want to survive.
Tristan Hart (The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf): I am weirdly fond of Tristan although he is quite scary. He is one of those characters whose action you can never predict because he is completely mad. Tristan grows up as a member of the landed aristocracy of the 18th century. He is educated, polite, handsome and a medical genius. He is also a sadist who enjoys torturing prostitutes, gets boners during operations, completely self-absorbed and shamelessly manipulates his sister, mother-figure and friends. At one point he also rape Tristan s a gypsy woman, an act that haunts him for the rest of his life. But despite his very unpleasant qualities, I could not help hoping that Tristan would redeem himself and get his version of a happy ending. For Tristan is also very fearful of life in general (something we can all relate to) and at times very vulnerable. From he was a teenager, Tristan has had periods were he has been ‘sick’, i.e. screaming, hearing invisible drums, attacking people and seeing visions of goblins and talking owls. As a modern reader you cannot help diagnosing him as a paranoid schizophrenic, but is he really? Could it be that the bizarre things he sees are true? And perhaps his sociopathic behavior is what is needed to stop the bats, gypsies and talking owls?