Characters you don’t want to love, but you can’t help liking.
If I had to answer this – if I had to make a list of characters “I don’t want to love but I can’t help liking” my answer would be none. That’s because I don’t believe characters can be problematic, and I have no problems with liking villains.
Yes, characters can do bad things, but villains are villains for a reason (you can’t have some kinds of narratives without villains!), and if someone tells you you shouldn’t like a villain/a morally gray character… they’re wrong. Also kind of controlling and unable to understand how stories work, but this is another discussion, the one where you have to explain that liking a fictional mass murderer doesn’t mean you would ever want to emulate them.
If the books excuses villanous actions or portrays them as good, the one that’s problematic is the book, not the character. It’s always about the framing. So this isn’t a list of problematic faves – I don’t have those – but it’s a list of my favorite morally gray characters, the ones who fall on the darker end of the spectrum.
Nahadoth from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
If you want to try a fantasy book with a not-exactly-villain/heroine romance and a diverse cast, try this one. It’s great. I haven’t read Jemisin’s new series, which is far more hyped and loved, but I almost never see anyone talk about this one? I loved it. I mean, Nahadoth is basically a genderfluid god of chaos.
Tea of the Embers from The Bone Witch
Tea was the main reason I liked this book. She’s a bone witch, a witch that can raise monsters (the daeva) and also the dead. She currently lives on a beach full of bones and she always wear beautiful clothes. I love her.
The Darkling from Shadow and Bone
The Darkling is the character that showed me I loved characters with an evil side. I’ve read this trilogy in 2015 and it’s still one of my favorite YA series.
Bette Abney from Tiny Pretty Things
A mean girl, but not your stereotypical mean girl, Bette Abney is one of the three narrators of the Tiny Pretty Things series. She has one of the most interesting character arcs I’ve ever read, especially in the second book, Shiny Broken Pieces. If you want a book about messed-up teenagers (backstabbing ballerinas, but the adults are worse!) with a diverse cast that is not terribly stereotypical (I’m looking at you, The Thousandth Floor) read this duology.
Shuos Jedao from Ninefox Gambit
I could have made a list only with characters from this book – they are all terrible, I love them – but I’m going to talk about him today. Jedao was one of the best generals in the history of the Heptarchate, up until his last battle, at Hellspin Fortress. There he destroyed two armies, one of them his own, for apparently no reason. He’s currently preserved as a many-eyed ghost – he’s too good at tactics to be killed, but it would be too dangerous to free him. He’s a chatty manipulative bastard and I didn’t expect to like him so much.
What are your favorite villainous characters? What do you think of “problematic faves”?