Are There Any Good Books Where The Role Of Protagonist Is Played By A Villain?
Posted on 12th of October, 2018


One of my favorite authors is Gregory Maguire and he had quite a talent for writing books from the viewpoint of villains. What made his books special is that he often took characters that everyone know are villains and then wrote the stories from their perspective. Some of his books are rather old, but they have a timeless quality to them that makes them a pleasure to read even now. If I had to pick just one I would say Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It is based on the "Wizard of Oz" stories by L. Frank Baum and stars the Wicked Witch of the West, who it turns out is just a bit misunderstood. Readers who fall in love with this book like I did should also read the sequels, which are Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz.
Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies - Lindsay Ribar - Not all villains are of the evil cackling variety, some are purely selfish. This is the case with Aspen, the protagonist of Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar. He has these amazing powers, but instead of using them to help humanity, he only uses them for his own personal gain. He also tends to screw things up for other people by using his powers. Aspen is a thief, but instead of stealing any physical valuables, he can rob people of stuff like their memories, feelings, traits and character attributes. The thing is, although he is clearly not using his powers for good, how many of us would be able to resist doing the same if we were in his shoes?

How To Lead a Life of Crime - Kirsten Miller - Imagine what would happen if instead of teaching students how to use magic, Hogwarts was a place to teach them how to become criminals. Well, that is the premise of How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller. Only this time the school is called Mandal Academy and it is a breeding ground for psychopaths. The protagonist of the book, Flick, isn't technically a villain as he isn't nearly as psychotic as his fellow students, but he is still a thief with some very ambiguous morals. Anyway, the book is so good, yet underrated that I just had to include it.

Half Bad - Sally Green - Villains are the way they are for a reason and nobody can blame the protagonist of Half Bad, Nathan Byrn, for being the way he is. Set in a world where there are good and bad witches, Nathan is a mixture of both, which leads to a lot of abuse in his life. Everyone is distrustful of Nathan because his father is a very powerful black witch and he has to face all kinds of dire predictions about how killing is in his blood and that it is all that he is made for.

Agenda - Virginia Aird - Moving away from the fantasy and supernatural a bit, there is also Agenda by Virginia Aird. Now to be honest, I didn't enjoy this book quite as much because it falls outside of my preferred genre, which is young adult, but I think other readers might really enjoy it if they want to read about a villainous character that isn't a typical male. Instead, the protagonist is an emotionally scarred woman who is out on a quest for vengeance.

Kill Kill Kill - Mike Leon - Finally, there is Kill Kill Kill, which is a book I'm busy with after someone recommended it to me. The book is a little extreme to me as it really doesn't shy away from controversial topics, but it has exactly what you would expect from something with a title like Kill Kill Kill. Because it is written from such a masculine perspective all the characters feel a little villainous to me, even the "good" guys who are all anti-heroes.
I can't believe that nobody has mentioned it yet, but the quintessential book written from the perspective of a villain is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I suppose that basically any book that is written from the perspective of a villain would qualify, but to me Patrick Bateman is one of the most chilling leads ever in a book. Just the cold blooded way in which he narrates the book and talks about moving in the wealthy circles of the New York elite during the day before indulging in some murder at night is extremely disturbing. As the book progresses, the crimes that Bateman commits also becomes worse. I would say that anyone who reads this book and sees the protagonist as anything but a villain is someone who you should watch closely around your sharp kitchen knives. The only other one that I can think of would be the old Frankenstein book by Mary Shelley. As far as I can remember the book is written from multiple viewpoints. Whether you consider Victor Frankenstein, or his creature to be the villain is up to you of course.
Now this is a really interesting question and honestly not the type of thing that I have ever actually given a thought when choosing a book. If the book sounds interesting, I would read it regardless of whether or not the protagonist is evil. In fact, now that I think about it, a villain protagonist could actually make the story better because of how unique it is. Since I haven't read that many books from this type of perspective, the only one that I can really think of is the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I don't think there are any one character in the books that could be highlighted as the protagonist as the author continually switches the viewpoint between characters. Some of these characters are good, some are neutral and some are downright villains. It is one of the things that has made the books, and now the television show, so good.
It is rather interesting how we have all been conditioned to think that the protagonist of a story is always a hero, and will in almost all cases prevail over whatever adversity it is that they are facing. It takes a brave hero to write stories about morally ambiguous heroes and even more so to make the protagonist of your tale an outright villain. It always comes with the risk of alienating or even outright disgusting your readers, which is why few authors risk straying off the well beaten path. If you would like to take a walk on the dark side, these are my recommendations for books that foregoes the typical lilly-white heroes for someone a little darker.

- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov ~ This is perhaps one of the most well-known and controversial books ever written from the perspective of a villain. Not only is a middle-aged literature professor, but he also becomes interested in a 12-year old girl in a very unsavory manner. It progresses to the point where he even becomes the stepfather of the girl just so that he can become involved with her. The whole book is narrated by the villain and reading about his obsession is quite jarring. Nevertheless, it is a very good book even if the subject matter is rather uncomfortable.

- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky ~ Some would call Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, an anti-hero, but in my eyes he is a total villain. While he may believe that his motives are "pure", he still ends up killing people for his own selfish needs. Even the fact that he shows remorse for his deeds and feels the urge to confess doesn't make him a hero.

- The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ~ Dorian Gray is an interesting example of villain protagonist simply because the protagonist doesn't start out as evil. It's a very familiar story, but in recap, it's about a young man who trades his soul in return for a painting of him aging instead of his body. He then goes on to pursue a hedonistic lifestyle that results in him causing people to commit suicide, killing people in anger and blackmailing others. He does eventually repent for his crimes in a way, but he is still a villain for most of the book.

- The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence ~ Just to prove that I do read a couple of more recent books, I would include the Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence. The protagonist, Jorg Ancrath, does a couple of things that would make even serious villains flinch. The fact that he is a very damaged individual due to some of the traumas that he faces explains a lot of his actions, but it is at times very hard to root for a character that sinks to the depths that he does. Due to the fact that he isn't completely irredeemable, he could be considered an anti-hero instead of outright villain, but I think the families and friends of the people who he has murdered in cold blood might be inclined to strongly disagree.

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